Look Ahead: Congressional “To Do” List

With Congress now midway through their 5-week August recess and rampantly campaigning in their home districts and states, the to-do list for both a lame-duck Congress and the upcoming 113th Session continue to grow.

Lawmakers face rapidly dwindling work days remaining in the current session of Congress prior to elections and party conventions. The Senate and House will not return to Washington, D.C. until Sept. 10, and, while the Senate is scheduled to be in session the majority of September and October, the House is only scheduled to be in session for a total of 13 days after the August recess and before the elections. Although these schedules can vary, it is unlikely there will be any significant increase in work-days prior to the elections.

Tax and spending bills are among the top issues for lawmakers to address when they return in September. Adding a sense of urgency is the looming, so-called “fiscal cliff” which is a number of tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2012, and sequestration that begins in 2013.

President Obama recently signed into law a bill requiring the administration to report to Congress by Sept. 6, 2012 on the likely impact of sequestration as it relates to funding cuts for various agencies. Sequestration, passed as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act which secured an increase in the U.S. debt ceiling, is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013 and would require a reduction in overall federal spending of about 2.7 percent.

With regards to the tax extenders bills, the fact that the Bush-era tax cuts, including income taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes and many more, expire at the end of 2012 adds yet another layer of urgency and complexity. The House, prior to recess, approved two Republican sponsored bills, one that would temporarily extend the Bush-era tax cuts for taxpayers at all income levels and another that would provide expedited procedures for consideration of overall tax reform in 2013. The Senate has approved a more targeted extension of the income tax cuts for earners below $200,000 for individuals. Neither bill has any chance of agreement in the other Chamber.

On the spending side of the equation, the appropriations process has come to a standstill. To date, the House has passed the following spending bills: Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, VA-Military Construction and Transportation-HUD. The Senate, on the other hand, has passed no appropriations bills whatsoever.

Senate and House leadership recently announced a tentative agreement to approve a continuing resolution (CR) which will keep the government funded—and avoid a shutdown when the current spending bills expire on Sept. 30—at current levels for another six months, through March 2013. While leadership is calling for a clean bill, lawmakers already are eyeing the must-pass measure as an opportunity to include pet projects.

In addition to inaction on these key items, two other bipartisan bills—the farm bill and cybersecurity bill—both failed to move forward prior to the recess, leaving both hanging in the balance, with the hopes of some attention in the few remaining days of the 112th Session of Congress.

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