Congress crams unfinished agenda into final days
Washington — Like a student who waited until the night before a deadline, lawmakers resuming work Monday will try to cram two years of leftover business into two weeks, while also seeking to avoid a government shutdown.
Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row.
Also pending are President Barack Obama’s requests for money to combat Islamic State militants, battle Ebola and deal with the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who have crossed into the U.S.
Obama’s move to protect millions of immigrants from deportation proceedings and make them eligible for work permits appears to have made it more difficult to navigate the must-do items through a Capitol where cooperation already was in short supply.
The No. 1 item is preventing a government closure when a temporary funding measure expires Dec. 11. The House and Senate Appropriations committees are negotiating a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1 and are promising to have it ready by the week of Dec. 8.
The tax-writing committees are trying to renew a bundle of expired tax breaks such as the deduction for state and local sales taxes and the research and experimentation credit. Some, like tax credits for renewable energy projects such as wind farms, are a hard sell for GOP conservatives, but eagerly sought by Midwestern Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.
The House has passed legislation that would make several of the tax breaks permanent; the Senate’s approach has been to extend them only for 2014 and 2015. Negotiators appeared to near an agreement last week only to have the White House put it on ice with a veto threat. The administration said an emerging plan by House Republicans and top Senate Democrats was tilted too far in favor of businesses.
The president’s authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria expires Dec. 11. Lawmakers probably will renew it while postponing action until 2015 on a broader, new authorization to use military force.
Obama also is requesting more than $5 billion to pay for sending additional noncombat troops and munitions to Iraq and cover other military and intelligence costs associated with fighting the militants.
Obama wants $6.2 billion to tackle Ebola at its source in West Africa and to secure the U.S. against any possible outbreak. Also pending is a $3.7 billion request to address the immigrant children.