Congress is returning to Washington facing a full agenda and limited time in session.
There are two important deadlines facing Congress: The Oct. 1 start of a new fiscal year and a mid-October deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
There also are numerous controversial non-spending issues, including debate on President Obama’s request to use military force against Syria. Action on that resolution will take up most of the limited time available before the Sept. 30 fiscal year-end and could indirectly affect the appropriations and debt ceiling debates.
Sept. 30 is normally the deadline for finishing the 12 annual appropriations bills necessary to fund discretionary programs and government agencies or to approve a Continuing Resolution (CR). The deadline this year is Sept. 20 because the House is scheduled to be in recess from Sept. 20-30 unless the schedule is changed.
Several weeks ago, House and Senate Republicans threatened to try to block the CR in order to force the Obama Administration to accept a version that would cut off funding for “Obamacare.”
House Republicans now seem to be planning to seek concessions on the health law in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. So, it appears Republican leaders in the House will propose, and Democrats and the Administration will probably accept, a CR that allows agencies and programs to continue to operate for 30-90 days.
Treasury Secretary Lew sent a letter to Congress on Aug. 26 which stated that the debt limit must be raised by mid-October. The Treasury Department has been employing extraordinary measures that it only can extend for about six more weeks. Absent an increase in the debt limit by mid-October, the Treasury would only be able to use cash on hand to fund the government and the cash available would be insufficient to operate government agencies and pay outstanding obligations.
The question is — what are the concessions Congress will demand in return for raising the debt limit. The President has said he won’t accept any conditions in a debt ceiling bill. Many Republicans want to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to either further spending reductions or a delay in implementing certain provisions of “Obamacare,” or both.
It appears that Congress and the Administration are headed toward another showdown similar to the one in Aug. 2011 that led to the Budget Control Act and sequestration.
The President previously has said he will not utilize a provision in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to keep issuing debt, but he may have to reconsider that stance.
The Administration might be willing to accept a short-term delay in implementation of certain provisions of “Obamacare” as the price for raising the debt ceiling sufficiently to get past the midterm elections.
Other important issues also demand attention.
The House and Senate have passed farm bills, H.R. 2642 and S. 954, respectively, that must be reconciled. Portions of the current law begin to expire on Sept. 30 although the end of 2013 is probably the real deadline when dairy support prices will increase five-fold up to $38 per hundredweight.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, in June, but the full House hasn’t voted on any immigration measures. House Republican leaders continue to support a multiple-bill rather than comprehensive approach.
Some House committees have approved bills addressing specific issues, such as border security enhancements, visas for agricultural workers and employment eligibility verification requirements.
Recently, House leaders announced that because of the severe time constraints and hefty agenda, they would not schedule consideration of any immigration legislation this fall.
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