Congress returns with just a week left to deal with the latest last-minute legislative deadline: a 24 percent cut to Medicare doctor reimbursements that will happen April 1 without congressional action.
Medicare doctors are under a nearly constant threat of having their reimbursement rate cut under the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, which was created in 1997. But Congress has routinely delayed these cuts with so-called "doc fix" legislation.
That means Congress has little choice but to agree on some short-term patch once again this week. The House seems likely to pass it by the middle of the week, and the Senate is likely to follow through soon afterwards.
Congress is also facing the evolving issue of the Crimean peninsula. The last time Congress was in session, Crimea was still part of Ukraine; since then, Crimea voted to join Russia, and Russia signed papers to take possession.
Congress left town without finalizing a bill aimed at helping Ukraine pay the bills during what many are politely calling the "transition." The House has already passed a bill providing $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine, but the Senate will consider a broader bill that includes loan guarantees, money to promote democracy and security in Ukraine, and sanctions.
The House has also proposed broader language, a sign Congress is not satisfied with the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia, and that the door is not yet closed on finding new ways to punish Russia and help Ukraine. The House could consider this bill late next week.
Another idea that's gaining traction is boosting exports of natural gas to Ukraine; two House committees will explore that idea next week.
The Senate Foreign Relations will have a chance to ask Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryEgypt’s death squads and America's deafening silence With help from US, transformative change in Iran is within reach Ellison comments on Obama criticized as 'a stupid thing to say' MORE his assessment of Ukraine during a Tuesday hearing on the 2015 foreign affairs budget.
Elsewhere, the Senate is expected to try again on legislation to extend federal unemployment benefits. Senators have struggled to find a compromise on how to pay for the extension of these benefits, but a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement in March on a new bill.
But while that bill may finally move in the Senate, it's not clear House Republicans will be able to support it. GOP leaders in the House have said they want the bill to also include language aimed at helping people find jobs.
Below is a more detailed look at the week ahead:
The Senate starts at 2 p.m., and at 5:30 p.m. it will vote to end debate on a motion to proceed to S. 2124, the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act.
The House will meet in the afternoon to consider several suspension bills. Most of them are non-controversial bills to name post offices around the country, but two substantive bills are included:
— H.R. 3771, the Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act, which would let people make donations for typhoon recovery effort in the Philippines until April 15 and still deduct them from their 2013 tax bill.
— H.R. 4275, the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act, making it easier for charitable groups and others to provide defined benefit pensions plans.
Post office bills that will come up Monday or possibly later in the week are H.R. 1036, H.R. 1228, H.R. 1376, H.R. 1451, H.R. 1813, H.R. 2391 and H.R. 3060.
The House will consider H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America. This bill would stop the Obama administration from re-writing coal mining regulations, which Republicans say would slow energy production in the country.
This bill was originally supposed to be considered earlier in the month, but GOP leaders delayed it in part because of the snow storms that hit Washington.
The Senate is in for the week, and could work on two other bills. One is the doc fix legislation, likely the one that passed the House late in the week.
The other is S. 2148, a bill to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits for six months.
GOP leaders have reserved these days for "possible" consideration of a bill to avoid cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. As of Friday, no legislation had been put forward, but the bill could be moved quickly, even under a suspension of House rules, especially if it's a simple short-term patch.
Leaders also said it's "possible" that the House will take up new Ukraine legislation. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce has proposed H.R. 4278, the Ukraine Support Act.
Also in this timeframe, the House will consider H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act. This bill would require environmental reviews of proposed national monument sites, and would prohibit the president from declaring more than one site per state per year as a national monument, unless Congress authorizes it.
The House and Senate are out.