Capitol View: Congress Returns With Clock Ticking

U.S. CapitolThe House and Senate return this week with time running out on the pre-election agenda. Both houses are likely to leave by August 6 for the traditional summer break. They will return after Labor Day on September 7. Tentative plans would likely have the Senate depart for the fall election break on the first weekend of October with the House already announcing plans to leave on October 5. That October departure could be moved up if members feel the urge to hit the campaign trail earlier, which is a likely outcome.

With the seven or fewer weeks left, Congress is certain to not finish appropriations and the bigger question is: Which of the 12 appropriations bills will they pass? Anything not passed, conferenced and signed by October 1 would have to be subject to a continuing resolution.

The House has failed to act on a bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The House has passed six bills through floor debate while the Senate has not yet taken up any bills for floor debate.

A little more than a decade ago, the norm would be for the House to pass all appropriations by the August break with several bills in conference with the Senate. September would then be a time for the Senate to complete action on a few remaining bills and completion of all conference reports.

In addition to the challenge of finishing appropriations, key challenges and opportunities for Congress include the agriculture reauthorization, which the Senate has passed on a bipartisan basis and a vote of 64 to 35. The Senate reached consensus on changes to price and farm subsidies to find savings of $24 billion over ten years, but the House is taking a different approach largely by reducing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps). The House bill would cut $35 billion over ten years with $16 billion coming from SNAP compared to the Senate cuts in SNAP of just under $5 billion.

Another possible reauthorization is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), with each house having a version already. To this point there has not been progress on the three areas of difference between the two houses: tribal government authority in the prosecution of domestic violence, how the law applies in cases of domestic violence involving gay and lesbian couples, and protections for immigrant populations who are victims of domestic violence.

Beyond these bills, Congress is likely to spend the remaining pre-election period positioning the two parties for the election. The House is set to vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), and there are likely to be votes on items such as tax cuts and extensions and efforts to protect the defense budget from future cuts.

July 12, 2-4pm, Washington, DC: Roundtable on Child Trafficking on the Internet. Will be held at 2237 Rayburn House Office Building
July 16-18, Washington, DC: 2012 Conference to End Homelessness by The National Alliance to End Homelessness. For more information on the agenda and to register go online at:

-John Sciamanna is a consultant for child welfare services organizations.

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