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Congress Facing Busy Agenda            07/05 10:01

   After July Fourth fireworks and parades, members of Congress return to work 
Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a pending deadline to fund the 
government or risk a shutdown in the fall.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- After July Fourth fireworks and parades, members of 
Congress return to work Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a pending 
deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown in the fall.

   The funding fight is shaping up as a major partisan brawl against the 
backdrop of an intensifying campaign season. Republicans are eager to avoid 
another Capitol Hill mess as they struggle to hang onto control of Congress and 
try to take back the White House next year.

   Already they are deep into the blame game with Democrats over who would be 
responsible if a shutdown does happen. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has 
denounced Democrats' "dangerously misguided strategy" while House Democratic 
leader Nancy Pelosi of California accuses Boehner and his Republicans of 
pursuing "manufactured crises."

   The funding deadline does not even arrive until Sept. 30, but lawmakers face 
more immediate tests. Near the top of the list is renewing highway funding 
before the government loses authority July 31 to send much-needed 
transportation money to the states right in the middle of summer driving season.

   The highway bill probably also will be the way lawmakers try to renew the 
disputed federal Export-Import Bank, which makes and underwrites loans to help 
foreign companies buy U.S. products. The bank's charter expired June 30 due to 
congressional inaction, a defeat for business and a victory for conservative 
activists who turned killing the obscure agency into an anti-government cause 
celebre.

   Depending on the progress of the Obama administration's nuclear negotiations 
with Iran, lawmakers could also face debate on that issue. Leading Republicans 
have made clear that they are prepared to reject any deal the administration 
comes up with.

   Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Sunday labeled Iran "an anti-American, 
terror-sponsoring outlaw regime."

   "Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness," Cotton said on ABC's 
"This Week." Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, argued that U.S. 
allies in the region "wish we would take a more forceful position" with Tehran.

   Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, appearing on the same program, 
said, "What we're seeing now is this country headed towards having a nuclear 
weapon. That is going to do nothing more than guaranteeing the development of a 
Sunni bomb. Those Gulf State countries are not going to sit back and say, oh, 
it's fine, we're going to let Iran have a bomb."

   Not all will be partisan rancor. The Senate opens its legislative session 
with consideration of a major bipartisan education overhaul bill that rewrites 
the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law by shifting responsibility from the 
federal government to the states for public school standards.

   "We're seven years overdue" for a rewrite, said Sen. Lamar Alexander, 
R-Tenn, the bill's chief sponsor.

   The House also is moving forward with its own, Republican-written education 
overhaul bill, revived after leadership had to pull it earlier this year when 
conservatives revolted.

   Even if both bills pass, though, it's uncertain whether Congress will be 
able to agree on a combined version to send to President Barack Obama. Indeed 
the prospects for any major legislative accomplishments arriving on Obama's 
desk in the remainder of the year look slim, though there's talk of the Senate 
following the House and moving forward on cybersecurity legislation.

   That means that even though Obama was so buoyed when Congress sent him a 
major trade bill last month that he declared "This is so much fun, we should do 
it again," he may not get his wish.

   But all issues are likely to be overshadowed by the government funding fight 
and suspense over how --- or if --- a shutdown can be avoided.

   Democrats are pledging to oppose the annual spending bills to fund 
government agencies unless Republicans sit down with them to negotiate higher 
spending levels for domestic agencies. Republicans, who want more spending for 
the military but not domestic agencies, have so far refused. If there's no 
resolution by Sept. 30, the government will enter a partial shutdown.

   It's an outcome all involved say they want to avoid. Yet Democrats who 
watched Republicans pay a steep political price for forcing a partial shutdown 
over Obama's health care law in 2013 --- and come within hours of partially 
shutting down the Department of Homeland Security this year --- claim 
confidence they have the upper hand.

   "Given that a Democratic president needs to sign anything and you need 
Democratic votes in both chambers, the writing is on the wall here," said 
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

   Republicans insist Democrats are running a risk by opposing spending bills 
for priorities like troop funding --- but are not yet discussing how they will 
proceed if Democrats don't back down.

   As a result it looks likely current funding levels could be temporarily 
extended beyond Sept. 30 to allow more time to negotiate a solution.

   And it's not the only consequential deadline this fall. The government's 
borrowing limit will also need to be raised sometime before the end of the 
year, another issue that's ripe for brinkmanship. Some popular expiring tax 
breaks will also need to be extended, and the Federal Aviation Administration 
must be renewed. An industry-friendly FAA bill was delayed in the House 
recently although aides said that was unrelated to the Justice Department's 
newly disclosed investigation of airline pricing.

   In the meantime, the presence of several presidential candidates in the 
Senate make action in that chamber unpredictable, Congress will be out for 
another recess during the month of August --- and in September Pope Francis 
will visit Capitol Hill for a first-ever papal address to Congress.


(KA)


 
 
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