2 weeks and counting: What can Congress get done in its final two weeks?

July 22, 2013

Two weeks ago we outlined a July to-do list for Congress and suggested that the prospect of significant achievements rested on what transpired in the weeks before the August recess.


Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Halfway through the month's congressional proceedings, a quick review of where things stand also serves as a preview of what to expect this week on Capitol Hill. So here's a quick progress report (and don't forget to read our original to-do list):

1. Immigration: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly refused Sunday to take a position on whether he supports establishing ways for illegal immigrants to seek permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship.

But the speaker has expressed support for finding a way to resolve the status of the children of illegal immigrants, which is scheduled to be the topic of a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. Boehner also said Sunday that he expects the House to continue working on immigration reform in "chunks."

A vote on a border security proposal now isn't anticipated until after the August recess, despite suggestions that the House would begin voting on immigration-related bills this month.

2. Settle the student loans issue: The U.S. Senate is expected to vote in the coming days on a bipartisan agreement to change how the government sets federal student loan interest rates. The agreement, reached late last week, would require undergraduates to all pay the same interest rate, a change from recent years when some low- and middle-income students received a lower rate. Graduate students and parents of students would pay higher interest rates with higher caps.

Boehner suggested last week that the House could go along with the agreement, meaning that Congress may be on the verge of settling a long-simmering issue that has been caught up in election-year politics.

3. Pass a farm bill: Resolution of this issue is still far off. House Republican leaders have declined to specify when they would be willing to engage the Senate in negotiations on a final bill. Senate Democrats are pushing to begin talks by the end of the month after the House passed a pared-down farm bill without federal funding for food stamps.

How might this issue be resolved? House and Senate negotiators could agree to set food-stamp funding in a final compromise version of the bill and cobble together enough bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled House to pass the measure.

4. Appropriations and preparing to pass a short-term budget deal: The Senate is slated to begin its appropriations process this week with consideration of the bill appropriating funds for the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation. Over in the House, several conservative lawmakers are pushing for consideration of proposed amendments to the defense appropriations bill to stop or curtail activities of the National Security Agency -- proposals that have forced GOP leaders to delay consideration of the legislation.

5. Tax reform and fiscal issues: Top congressional tax writers are pushing House and Senate leaders to permit serious consideration of a tax overhaul, but the issue hasn't moved much in recent weeks. Boehner did, however, list tax reform as one of his top priorities in an interview Sunday.

"We need tax reform where we bring down the rates, we get rid of the garbage in the tax code, make it fairer for more Americans and it will help us with real economic growth," Boehner told CBS's "Face the Nation."

6. Senate confirmation battles: Senators averted an institutional crisis last week by agreeing to approve President Obama's picks to lead the Energy and Labor departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Senators are expected to give swift approval this week to Obama's three nominees to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, while the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees plan hearings this week on several mid-level Defense and State Department picks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) isn't ruling out changing Senate rules so that Executive Branch nominees would only require 51 votes to be confirmed. And with potential fights in the coming years over future Obama nominees, the threat of more acrimony remains.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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