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Congress Has a Full Plate as 12-Day Countdown Begins

Congress Has a Full Plate as 12-Day Countdown Begins

By Adam O'Neal - December 1, 2014

The House and Senate are back in session Monday afternoon, with lawmakers expected to be in Washington until Dec. 12. The lame duck has plenty of business to complete, from funding the government to reauthorizing ISIL policy. Here are highlights of what the 113th Congress will be working on during its final two weeks. 

Keeping the government open: General government funding runs out in 10 days, and that means a federal shutdown if a continuing resolution isn’t passed by that deadline. Wary from the political pain their party experienced after last year’s government shutdown, GOP leadership in the House remains committed to reaching an agreement with Democrats. But those same Republicans, particularly conservatives, also want to respond to President Obama’s immigration executive action. To achieve both goals, Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants must develop a strategy that satisfies lawmakers on the right without imperiling a funding bill. Options include stand-alone legislation to target the executive action or a funding bill designed to push an immigration showdown to next year. Whether the for-now-Democratic Senate would abide the latter is another question -- and an important one for those hoping to see the government remain open. 

Renewing tax breaks: Fifty-five tax breaks worth billions of dollars expired Jan. 1, and tax-writing committees are scrambling to find a workable compromise after being gridlocked all year. House Republicans hoped to make the breaks permanent; Democrats in the Senate aimed for a two-year extension. Bipartisan, bicameral negotiators thought they had a deal last week, but the White House threatened a veto because it saw the emerging bill as too friendly to business. It’s unclear if legislation will pass this year. 

Syria and the Islamic State: Following the beheading of American journalists (and strategic advances by the Islamic State in the summer), Congress approved arming and training of Syrian rebels in September. That authorization runs out Dec. 11. Congress will most likely renew the authority temporarily. A broader debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State will come in 2015. Obama has also requested $5 billion to fight the militant group and send more American personnel to Iraq. 

Assorted funding: In addition to billions of dollars for fighting Islamic terrorists, Obama also has also made other one-time funding requests. He’s seeking $6.2 billion to fight Ebola in West Africa and prepare the U.S. against an outbreak -- a request Republicans were skeptical of last month. A $3.7 billion request to deal with the child migrant crisis that consumed headlines this past summer is pending, as well. 

Defense authorization: Congress, for all its imperfections, has remained remarkably consistent when moving one type of legislation. For more than 50 years, an annual defense authorization bill has passed. But lawmakers are cutting it close this time, as negotiations stalled over cuts to military benefits. Expect a deal to emerge in the next two weeks: Rep. Buck McKeon and Sen. Carl Levin are retiring, and they almost certainly won’t want to end their time in Congress -- and atop their respective Armed Services committees -- without a bill. 

Nominations: Obama has always had some trouble getting nominees through the Senate -- even though Democrats have controlled the chamber throughout his presidency. Understanding that it won’t get easier once Republicans are in charge next month, the upper chamber will be voting on myriad nominations during the lame-duck session. On Monday, senators will consider ambassadors to Hungary and Argentina, as well as confirmation or cloture for seven other nominees.

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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