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Congress Gets a Vacation, but a Full Plate Awaits

Aug 09, 2012

This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.

Perhaps five weeks away will be good for Congress, because lawmakers’ recent efforts have failed to accomplish much. From the farm bill to cybersecurity and rescuing the U.S. Postal Service, many issues were still in need of action when Congress recessed last week, and both time and opportunity are running out.

Of course, there is some progress to report. In the days and weeks ahead of the August recess, Congress passed, and Obama signed, a two-year highway bill that included a one-year extension to keep student-loan interest rates from increasing. Earlier this year, Obama signed a modest jobs bill that eases securities regulations for start-ups.

Yet the fact is, only 13 working days remain before Election Day, and Congress has yet to pass an already agreed-upon stopgap spending bill, a farm bill, and then figure out a way to help the Postal Service pay for retiree health care. The spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, is expected to pass, but the fate of the farm bill—which already passed the Senate—is very much up in the air, with conservatives in the House divided on how to proceed.

Those are the must-do bills. Ahead of the break, Congress failed to hammer out other important legislation, including stopgap drought aid to farmers, a cybersecurity bill, the Violence Against Women Act, and permanent normalization of trade with Russia. The trade bill is expected to be taken up by the House, but the cybersecurity bill’s future is uncertain, as is the fate of the violence against women legislation.

All of this is in addition to the enormous financial issues that will confront Congress after the Nov. 6 elections – the so-called fiscal cliff – including $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts and the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

According to Bloomberg, Congress had sent only 63 bills to Obama for signature this year, the bulk of which involved minor matters like post office naming and extending already-passed legislation. The low rate of passage mirrors 1995, when only 88 bills became law, which was at the time nearly a 50-year low.

  • Read the complete August 9, 2012 edition of Executive Insight Briefing.
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