Will lame duck limp to Christmas?

Greg Nash

The 113th Congress is scheduled to conclude by Dec. 11, but the fight over government spending could keep lawmakers here closer to Christmas.

Many members of Congress, particularly Democrats defeated in the November midterms, are dying to put Capitol Hill in the rear-view mirror.

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And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said earlier this month that the “intention” is for the chamber to wrap up the lame-duck session by Dec. 11.

Still, given the flare-up in conservative circles over President Obama's executive actions to provide legal status and work permits for up to five million undocumented immigrants, meeting the Dec. 11 timeframe could be a tough hurdle.

The government will shut down on Dec. 12 if lawmakers don’t agree to a new funding bill by then. In the past, short-term measures have been approved to buy more time.

Immigration and avoiding a shutdown will be the topics dominating the lame-duck.

But other priorities also remain for a Congress frequently criticized as the least productive in history.

Government funding 

Republicans want to block funding to implement Obama's immigration executive action, and that introduces the threat of a shutdown.

The House Appropriations Committee’s leaders are pushing members to move a full omnibus spending bill, and argue that the agency that issues work permits, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is funded by fees and not subject to the congressional appropriations process.

Over the recess, the GOP was searching for ways to block Obama’s executive action, and a Dec. 2 meeting of the House Republican conference could be a key moment.

Lawmakers will also be considering whether to include funding to combat the Ebola outbreak.

Nominations

The Senate will revert to GOP power in January, leaving little time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to clear a stack of the Obama’s nominations.

Reid is under pressure from Secretary of State John Kerry to confirm as many of the pending nominees to his agency as possible.

The Senate has been churning through nominees, including ambassadors, since the midterm elections and will continue to do so for the rest of the session.

Some of the nominees, like two that are up for consideration the first week of December, Colleen Bell and Noah Mamet, are top Obama donors and not career diplomats. Bell has been nominated to serve as ambassador to Hungary, while Mamet, if confirmed, would be the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina.

Even more high-profile confirmation battles over Obama’s nominations for attorney general and Defense secretary will wait until 2015 when Republicans take control of the Senate.

Defense authorization 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the rare piece of legislation that is almost always renewed on time.

It’s been done by the Dec. 31 deadline every year for 52 consecutive years.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who are both retiring, don't want this year to be the exception.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said before the Thanksgiving recess that he hoped a finalized conference report could be on the floor by the first week of December.

An extension of the authorization to arm Syrian rebels to fight the extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which expires Dec. 11 with the current government-wide funding bill, will likely be part of the NDAA package.

Talks are hung up, however, over proposed cuts to co-pays for military families that benefit from the TRICARE insurance system, and to military housing allowances. Levin is backing those Pentagon proposals, but the House is opposed to them.

Terrorism risk insurance

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which provides a financial backstop in the event of a terror attack, expires on Dec. 31.

The program has been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have been meeting in recent days, though an agreement has yet to be reached.

Hensarling and other conservatives think the program puts taxpayers at risk.

Hensarling wants to raise the trigger for when federal insurance would kick in to $500 million in damages, instead of the $100 million that has been the benchmark. The Senate passed a seven-year extension earlier this year on a 97-0 vote. But lawmakers may turn to a short-term renewal if no agreement is reached.

Taxes

More than 50 tax credits expired at the end of 2013 that lawmakers want to renew by the end of the 113th Congress.

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen has warned that tax refunds could be delayed next year if there isn't a decision soon.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) came close to a deal earlier this week, but it fell apart after the White House threatened to veto the emerging $450 billion package.

The Obama administration and other top Democrats thought the measure would renew more tax breaks benefiting corporations than average Americans.

Among the credits likely to be restored are the research and development credit, a provision to allow business to write off expenses more quickly and the commuter tax credit to reduce workers' mass transit costs. Still at issue is whether some of those credits will become a permanent part of the tax code.

Bernie Becker, Kevin Cirilli and Martin Matishak contributed.