Returning Congress Will Likely Do Little

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 10 2012 9:32 AM

Do-Nothing Congress Comes Back From Vacation, Will Likely Do Nothing

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Lawmakers are largely expected to punt big questions until after the elections

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

After a five-week recess and lots of important tasks to attend to, lawmakers will get right back to work on the key issues when they return to Capitol Hill today, right? Eh, probably not. In fact, lawmakers are unlikely to stay very long in Washington in the first place. They’re expected to be in Washington for only about two weeks between now and Election Day in November, “making their return to the capital little more than a pit stop,” notes Reuters. So, what will they do about the important issues? Why, punt, of course. With less than two months to go until November 6, members of Congress will likely simply push to do the bare minimum to prevent a government shutdown when the budget year ends on Sept. 30, points out the Associated Press.

It seems lawmakers are getting ready to postpone even the biggest of decisions, including the much-hyped “fiscal cliff” on taxes and spending, reports Politico. Failing to take action on the issue could very well trigger a recession early next year, yet action seems highly unlikely until after the election. Part of the problem though is that business cycles don’t always follow political ones, and some corporate leaders have already warned the uncertainty over the issue is already affecting key decisions, points out Reuters.

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And that’s hardly the only important issue on their plates. One of the most challenging questions is what to do with a five-year farm bill that would replace the current farm act that expires at the end of September. Yet, as now seems the norm, lawmakers are likely to opt for a patch, issuing a temporary extension to the old bill until after the election. But it’s not even clear they’d be able to even manage that, reports the AP. And it’s looking increasingly unlikely there will be any action on a bill to lift trade restrictions on Russia, which would be required for U.S. exporters to gain more access to the market after Moscow joined the World Trade Organization.

The one must-pass measure involves a short-term continuing resolution to fund federal agencies since everyone is eager to avoid any talk of a government shutdown before the election. The House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday and it’s expected to get a bipartisan majority. The Senate would then approve it next week, reports CNN.

Although the campaign season normally brings congressional activity to a near standstill, for this Congress, “it might be hard to tell the difference from the rest of the year,” writes Core Boles in the Wall Street Journal.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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