Will Congress Complete Its 2013 To-Do List?
(WASHINGTON) -- The holiday season is upon us, and members of Congress are packing up and heading home for a long break. The House of Representatives passed a number of important items before it adjourned last week and set up a busy schedule for the Senate to tackle before the holiday vacation. But will everything get done before the last lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays this week?
With the House already gone, here's a look at the legislative items on the Senate's agenda for the week and a few issues that will be left hanging until 2014.
1. Budget Deal
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the budget deal crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Was., last week with more than 300 votes, sending it to the Senate for a vote this week. But before the bill can head to President Obama's desk for a signature, it will need some help from Republicans in order for it to clear a key procedural hurdle in the Senate. If all 55 Senate Democrats vote for the bill, at least five Republicans will need to vote with them to end debate Tuesday. Three Senate Republicans -- Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah -- indicated they will support the bill in its entirety, and several more, including Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., have said they will vote to send debate. But the vote could be narrow as some Senate Democrats might vote against it because it doesn't address unemployment insurance, which is set to expire at the end of the month.
2. National Defense Authorization Act
Negotiators from the House and Senate Armed Services Committee reached an agreement early last week to fund the nation's military next year, and the House approved the measure before it went home for break. The Senate is expected to hold a vote to end debate on the defense authorization bill Wednesday and will likely pass it by week's end. The defense authorization bill, which includes $552 billion in national defense spending and nearly $81 billion for overseas contingency operations, also includes sweeping overhaul to the way sexual assaults are handled in the military. But it doesn't include a controversial measure sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., which would strip military commanders of the authority to prosecute sexual assaults. Though Gillibrand's item was not added to the National Defense Authorization Act, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised Gillibrand a vote on her measure as a stand-alone bill in 2014. It's unclear, however, whether she'll be able to round up the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill.
The Senate is poised to approve two major presidential nominees before heading into the holiday recess. The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nomination of Jeh Johnson to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Reid is also pushing the Senate to confirm Janet Yellen as the next chair of the Federal Reserve by the end of the week. The confirmation of these two key nominees will culminate a months-long battle in the Senate over nominations, which pushed Senate Democrats to change filibuster rules using the so-called "nuclear option" and further infuriated Republicans.
4. Farm Bill
The farm bill will be one of the Senate's undone items in 2013. Conferees from the Senate and House were unable to work out an agreement on the farm bill this month as they've battled over cuts to food stamp programs and how to deal with farm subsidies. The House last week passed a short-term extension of the bill until Jan. 31, but the Senate might not vote for the short-term fix before it heads home, leaving the issue of the farm bill to be dealt with in 2014.
5. Unemployment Insurance
Another item left unfinished on Congress' 2013 to-do list is unemployment insurance, which is set to expire Dec. 28 when 1.3 million people will lose their benefits. Reid last week vowed to make unemployment insurance the first item on the Senate's agenda when it returns in January, arguing that the benefits could be extended retroactively. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated a willingness to extend the benefits but is pushing for a way to offset the costs with spending reductions.
6. Immigration Overhaul
Fixing the nation's immigration system has been at a standstill since the summer, and any hopes of achieving immigration overhaul will spill over into the new year. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in June, but it has faced a serious roadblock in the House as many Republicans have instead called for a piecemeal approach. Boehner said last month that immigration overhaul is "absolutely not" dead, and the speaker made an interesting hire earlier this month when he added Rebecca Talent, an immigration policy expert, to his policy team, a move that could indicate Boehner's interest in dealing with the issue in 2014.
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