Before ceding full control of Congress to the GOP in January, Senate Democrats are planning to rush a host of critical measures to President Obama’s desk, including bills to revive dozens of expired tax breaks and avoid a government shutdown for another year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is also aiming to chip away at a backlog of presidential nominations to the federal bench and the State Department over the next month, although Democratic aides say they will be unable to process all of the hundreds of pending appointments before turning the chamber over to Republicans.
Republican leaders, too, are inclined to clear the legislative decks of must-pass bills so they can start fresh in January, when they will have control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in eight years. Leaders from both parties are due at the White House for a lunch Friday to begin discussing the parameters of the possible in a new era of Republican domination.
At his first news conference since the GOP landslide at the polls this week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday warned Obama to abandon his “go-it-alone” strategy of governing by executive order and to begin looking for areas of compromise with Congress.
“Finding common ground is going to be hard work — but it will be even harder if the president isn’t willing to work with us,” Boehner told reporters at the Capitol. “Listen, I’ve told the president before, he needs to put politics aside and rebuild trust — and rebuilding trust not only with the American people, but with the American people’s representatives here in the United States Congress.”
For starters, Boehner said, Obama should not follow through on his pledge to take unilateral action in the next few weeks to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Obama vowed again Wednesday to use executive authority to extend protections for potentially millions of people living in the United States illegally.
“He will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving” at all, Boehner said. “When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. . . . And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
While immigration legislation will not be on the table when lawmakers return to Washington next week, they will have a full plate of other complex matters to resolve before adjourning for the year, starting with legislation to fund the government past Dec. 11.
House and Senate negotiators have been at work for weeks on a comprehensive bill to fund federal agencies through next September, and aides said they hope to bring the measure to a vote before the Dec. 11 deadline.
Some conservatives are agitating for a temporary measure that would allow Republicans to revisit agency funding levels when they take charge early next year. But Republican leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), would rather get the bills for fiscal 2015, which began in October, out of the way so they can focus on crafting a budget for fiscal 2016.
Lawmakers are also under pressure to revive a variety of tax breaks that expired at the end of last year, including popular business perks such as the credit for research-and-development expenses. The House has voted to revive the research credit and make it a permanent part of the tax code, while the Senate has advanced a bill to revive all the tax breaks and extend them through 2015.
Earlier this year, a battle appeared to be brewing over the issue, which has significant implications for broader tax reform. But leadership aides in both parties predicted this week that lawmakers would adopt the Senate approach and avoid a potentially divisive fight over giving some breaks favored treatment.
The debate over the annual defense policy bill may be more complicated. Among the issues that could prove a hurdle to smooth passage is a bipartisan proposal to stiffen sanctions against Iran.
A filibuster-proof majority of Democratic and Republican senators support a plan to impose new restrictions on Iran’s fuel purchases and certain sectors of the country’s economy. But the Obama administration fears that such a move could scuttle talks between the United States, Iran and five other nations over curbing Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons.
Another must-pass item is an extension of a terrorism risk insurance program instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, creating a federal program to protect the insurance industry in the event of another “certified act of terror.”
The program expires at the end of this year, and the Senate has already approved a seven-year extension by a vote of 93 to 4. Even the chamber’s leading tea party firebrand, Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), voted for it.
In the House, however, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the Financial Services Committee, has pushed a version that would wind the program down after five years. Hensarling has drawn praise from free-market conservatives who oppose government supports for the insurance industry.
But House leaders have privately told Hensarling that he has only a few weeks to assemble a coalition to pass his version of the bill. Otherwise, they are planning to bring the Senate bill to the House floor, pass it and head home for Christmas.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.