Next week may end up being all about what doesn't get done, instead of what does get done.
In Congress's last planned week of work in 2013, there's not much "must-do" legislation that has to pass. The closest thing might be a short-term extension of agricultural programs.
Another idea that could move next week is an extension of a U.S. ban on the manufacture, sale or ownership of firearms that can't be detected by metal detectors.
That ban expires December 9, and while many Democrats want to amend the law, the Senate may have no choice but to quickly pass the simple 10-year extension that the House passed this week.
Everything else is optional. House and Senate negotiators are under pressure to reach a 2014 budget agreement. But despite a December 13 deadline and reports of progress last week, many are openly saying the real deadline is January 15.
The so-called "doc fix", or the sustainable growth rate (SGR) for Medicare reimbursement, is also a looming. Current law requires cuts in the reimbursement rate, but Congress has delayed these cuts for the last several years by passing one-off legislation. But even this could be delayed until next year, and written retroactively.
Before it left for Thanksgiving, the Senate was working on passing the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). But it's not clear this bill can be moved with just a week left, although House Democrats indicated they would try to rush the process.
The Senate may find time to consider legislation to increase sanctions against Iran. Members of both parties have called for tougher sanctions as the best way to keep Iran on the path of scaling back its nuclear ambitions, and Senate Democrats have said legislation is possible this week.
Three Democratic priorities that seem certain to go nowhere next week are House passage of the Senate's immigration bill, a Senate gay rights bill, and an extension of emergency unemployment benefits. House GOP leaders have explicitly said they won't pass the immigration or unemployment benefits bills.
In response, House Democrats have promised to make the end of the week interesting if the House fails to extend unemployment benefits. Last week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democrats would "vigorously" oppose adjourning for the Christmas break until unemployment is extended, which implies a loud and messy vote to adjourn on Friday.
Below is a more detailed look at the week ahead:
The Senate starts at 2 p.m., and later in the day it will resume debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, S. 1197.
At 5 p.m., senators will start debate on the nomination of Patricia Millett to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit. At 5:30 p.m., senators will vote on her nomination.
Millett will be the first nominee to move through the Senate under new rules that will prevent Republicans from forcing a 60-vote majority to advance nominations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for a rules change, which was approved by a simple majority vote, that allows all nominees save Supreme Court picks to be called up and approved by a simple majority.
The Senate may also consider H.R. 3626, which extends the Undetectable Firearms Act for 10 years.
Other votes on nominations are also possible Monday and throughout the week in the Senate. The nominations of Robert Wilkins and Cornelia Pillard to join Millett on the DC Circuit are possible, as is a vote on the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to be director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
The House starts at noon for speeches, and then at 2 p.m. to debate one suspension bill:
— H.R. 3627, the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act, requiring the government to report on child abuse penalties in U.S. states and territories.
However, no votes are planned until Tuesday, so if a roll call vote on this bill, it will happen Tuesday. House aides said members would return Monday to give the House Rules Committee the option of approving a rule for legislation dealing with the budget or farm bill, if needed.
Because of the uncertainties of the week, House Republicans are saying there is a possiblity of legislation related to the farm bill, the budget, and the doc fix. But as of late Friday, nothing firm had been set on these issues.
Aside from those possibilities, the House will consider up to eight suspension bills throughout the week. They are:
— H.R. 1447, the Death in Custody Reporting Act, requiring states to report to the federal government on prison deaths.
— H.R. 3521, the Department of Veterans Major Medical Facility Lease Authorization Act, authorizing VA's major medical facility leases.
— H.R. 1402, the VA Expiring Authorities Extension Act, extending the authority of the Department of Veterans' Affairs to pay monthly assistance to disabled veterans.
— S. 1471, the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act.
— H.R. 3212, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act.
— H.R. 1992, the Israel QME Enhancement Act, increase government reporting requirements on ways to ensure Israel has access to adequate defense technologies, from every four years to every two years.