And with no outward signs of a deal on how to cut mandatory spending, there is increasing chatter about what to do if there is no agreement. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the last few weeks has said he would reject any attempt to implement the automatic $500 billion in defense cuts that would take hold without a deal.
Those comments have led some scribblers to openly suggest that Congress could surprise everyone by passing a new law to eliminate the required sequestration of defense and other funds if the supercommittee fails.
While this idea is still in an embryonic stage, the issue could get stirred up a little when the House Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to discuss the specific question of the economic consequences of the defense sequestration.
As the story of the supercommittee slowly unfolds in the background, the House returns from a week away to face the ever-imminent issue of jobs. The key bill up for a vote next week would repeal the requirement that federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of payments to contractors until those contractors pay all taxes owed.
Republicans and Democrats alike have agreed that the current law should be scrapped, due to high implementation costs and the strains it would put on the already struggling construction sector.
Nonetheless, the Senate rejected a GOP proposal to scrap the law this week, due to opposition to the $30 billion rescission in federal funds that bill required. The House GOP bill has no offset, and is expected to pass easily. Still, it leaves open the question of how to get a version through the Senate.
With the Senate out, the House also returns to a full slate of hearings. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will present her long-awaited thoughts on the status of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Below is a more detailed look at the week ahead:
The House meets at 2 p.m. for work on seven suspension bills, while the Senate is out all week. Votes on the following bills are expected at 6:30 p.m.:
H.R. 295, to amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to authorize funds to acquire hydrographic data and provide hydrographic services specific to the Arctic for safe navigation, delineating the United States extended continental shelf, and the monitoring and description of coastal changes,
H.R. 441, the Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act,
H.R. 818, to direct the Secretary of the Interior to allow for prepayment of repayment contracts between the United States and the Uintah Water Conservancy District,
H.R. 1160, the McKinney Lake National Fish Hatchery Conveyance Act,
H.R. 320, the Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act,
H.R. 461, the South Utah Valley Electric Conveyance Act, and
H.R. 2594, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act.
The House meets at noon for legislative business. Work is likely on H.R. 1904, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. This bill would permit a land swap allowing a mining company to mine for copper in Arizona. The House Rules Committee is expected to approve a rule for this bill on Monday evening.
Work on three additional suspension bills is possible today and throughout the week:
H.R. 2447, to grant the congressional gold medal to the Montford Point Marines,
H.R. 2527, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act, and
H.R. 2042, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards Act.
The House meets at noon for legislative work, and will start work on two bills. One is H.R. 2576, which would amend the healthcare law to limit the availability of Medicaid and other health programs only to those in financial need.
House Republicans argue that the health law used a method for calculating modified adjusted gross income that makes it too easy for middle-income earners to qualify for these programs. The GOP says the bill would bring the calculation back in line with the standard definition of modified adjusted gross income, and thus save these health programs $13 billion.
The second bill, H.R. 674, would repeal the 3 percent withholding rule. Rules for both of these bills are expected to be approved by the Rules Committee on Tuesday, which will allow floor consideration Wednesday and Thursday.
The House meets at 9 a.m. to conclude any unfinished legislative work. Final votes are expected by 3 p.m.
The House is not in session.