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by Dom Ruscio, Partner
Congress narrowly averted another self-made crisis when it found the will to pass a continuing resolution keeping the government operating through December 9. The fact that it took nearly a month of bickering to pass a relatively simple extension of government funding only underscores why congressional approval ratings hover in the 15 percent range.
Of course, it doesn’t help that this session of Congress is on a pace to set new records. Harry Truman’s do-nothing Congress of 1948, may indeed be replaced by the Seinfeld Congress—about nothing.
But there’s still time for lawmakers to change the course of history. But not much. Congress will reconvene in mid-November when, depending on the election outcome, our national legislators can tackle its unfinished business.
First and foremost, there’s 11 appropriations bills still hovering in various stages of the legislative process. These include Labor, HHS and Education, Defense and Homeland Security. There’s talk among GOP leaders of grouping bills into mini-buses, but Democrats are suspicious of that approach, arguing instead for the traditional omnibus appropriations bill that would comprise all 11 spending bills.
Either way, Congress will have only about four weeks to get its act together.
But there are other big issues to be dealt with, not the least of which is a defense policy bill that authorizes roughly $602 billion in defense and war spending—legislation that has already drawn a presidential veto threat. The bill is hung up because of a number of controversial policy riders, including one that would effectively overturn an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation or gender identification. But the biggest obstacle—one that’s ruffling a lot of feathers—is a House GOP-sponsored amendment dealing with land-use management plans affecting the greater sage-grouse. (Yes, I said it!)
Another piece of unfinished business is a package of biomedical innovation provisions passed overwhelmingly in the House last year. Progress has been stalled in the Senate primarily over disagreements about mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both called passage of the bill a priority in the lame-duck session.
Lastly, more than 30 tax provisions are set to expire at the end of this year, including one affecting homeowners and their mortgages and several dealing with energy conservation and renewable energy. Congressional leaders have yet to decide whether to extend those provisions this year, or try to address them in the context of a larger tax overhaul bill next year.