Amid GOP pushback, Michigan Legislature OKs $1B spending plan targeting biz incentives

4 challenges Congress faces before August recess

William Douglas
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Washington — Congress is back in Washington and ready to play yet another frantic round of “Beat the Clock.”

In town for only a four-week session, lawmakers are confronted with a host of deadlines on must-do measures before bolting for a lengthy August recess.

Between now and then, the House of Representatives and the Senate must find ways to fund the nation’s highway system, salvage the Export-Import Bank, and try to avert a government shutdown in September.

With the clock ticking, here are some of the challenges and deadlines lawmakers face:

The highway or no way?

Unable to pass a long-term highway bill over the last 10 years, lawmakers have until July 31 to approve a stopgap measure to provide $11 billion to fund a program that supports state highway and transit projects through December. Even that could be tricky as several Republicans and conservatives inside and outside Congress view the Highway Trust Fund warily.

“If they are bailing out the Highway Trust Fund, we’re opposed to that,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

If Congress fails to act, states won’t receive money they’re counting on for transportation projects and workers could be laid off during the height of the construction season.

Ex-Im again?

The highway bill could serve as a lifeline vehicle for the Export-Import Bank, which for decades provided loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees to U.S. exporters and foreign buyers to finance the export of U.S. products. The bank’s charter expired June 30, a victory for conservatives who view the bank as corporate welfare and a blow to Democrats and business-friendly Republicans. The bank’s supporters are expected to try to revive it as part of the highway bill.

Shutdown showdown again?

The federal fiscal year doesn’t end until Sept. 30, but congressional Democrats and Republicans are already making noise about the potential for another government shutdown.

The across-the-board mandatory federal spending caps known as sequestration could be the sticking point. Democrats have vowed to oppose spending bills to fund government agencies unless Republicans agree to more funding for domestic programs. Republicans, who advocate increasing defense spending, have balked so far.

The House had passed six of 12 appropriations bill to date. The Senate hasn’t passed any.

Last call to kill Obamacare?

Republican leaders must decide by July 24 whether or not to use the expedited legislative process known as reconciliation to try to kill the 2010 health care law. The date is the deadline for three committees in the House and two in the Senate to craft and report reconciliation legislation.

Obamacare opponents in and out of Congress have strongly urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to kill the law through reconciliation. The move would enable the Senate to pass repeal measures by majority vote rather than the 60-vote threshold required on major legislation.

But that was before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last month affirming the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies. Boehner said after the ruling that “we haven’t made any decisions” about reconciliation. McConnell has supported using reconciliation to strip portions of the health care law. Still, Senate Republicans are weighing their options, a McConnell spokesman said.