Congress faces slim window for passage

Congress is poised to tackle a handful of high-profile bills between now and Election Day, but the measures face an uphill climb. 

Lawmakers face a tight window for action on the remaining agenda items, including a farm bill, postal reform and appropriations legislation. The House is scheduled to be in session for just seven weeks in the four months before Nov. 6, and the mix of expiring tax provisions and looming spending cuts is expected to dominate the post-election lame-duck session.

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Congress has been surprisingly productive during the first half of 2012 on bills ranging from highways to student loans to a ban on insider trading for lawmakers. But most on Capitol Hill believe that trend is in jeopardy. 

For a number of bills that have been in the works since the beginning of the 112th Congress, the next several weeks will be crucial. And those measures will have to compete for floor time with political messaging votes — like House moves to repeal the 2010 healthcare law and extend the full slate of Bush tax rates — that will take up a bulk of the election-season legislative calendar.

Here’s a look at some of the issues left on Congress’s plate:


FARM BILL

The pressure is on the House to act on a farm bill after the Senate in June passed a measure with a 10-year price tag of nearly $1 trillion. Whether the House can pass more than a one-year extension off the floor remains unclear. Conservatives have been leery of any legislation authorizing hundreds of billions in spending, and while the Senate bill cuts current spending levels, House Republicans are likely to push for far deeper cuts, particularly to the food stamp program. 

The cuts contained in the Senate version, which passed on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, are less than those called for in President Obama’s budget. The Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), has scheduled a markup for July 11. Ominously, the farm bill was not included in a May memo from House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorSpecial interests hide behind vets on Independence Day What to watch for in Comey’s testimony Trump nominates two new DOD officials MORE (R-Va.) outlining the summer floor schedule. The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.


POSTAL REFORM

The House is also playing catch-up with the Senate on legislation overhauling the Postal Service, which is in fiscal straits. The upper chamber approved its postal reform bill in April on a bipartisan vote, while the House has yet to act on its own version, spearheaded by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

A House GOP leadership aide said on Monday that the postal reform and farm bills were still being worked on and that there is “no firm date for when they will be on the floor.”


VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

Unlike the farm and postal measures, both the House and Senate have passed bills reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Yet the talks remain mired in a stalemate. 

The House says the Senate bill is unconstitutional because it raises revenue, and legislation that raises revenue must originate in the lower chamber. Senate Democratic leaders say the House-passed bill is unacceptable because it does not contain provisions protecting Native American, LGBT and immigrant women. The fourth-ranking Senate Democrat, Patty MurrayPatty MurrayLawmakers send McCain well wishes after cancer diagnosis Trump labor board nominees advance in Senate Dems tout failure of GOP healthcare bill MORE (Wash.), held a press conference last week to say she would not compromise on those issues.


APPROPRIATIONS

All of the action on appropriations has thus far been in the House. The lower chamber has passed six annual spending bills for fiscal 2013, and another five have passed out of the Appropriations Committee. Of those, two more bills are expected to hit the House floor before the August recess — most likely those dealing with defense and financial services. 

Because the Senate has made little headway in passing spending bills, a continuing resolution providing stopgap government funding through the November elections is considered inevitable before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.


FEDERAL RESERVE AUDIT

Three-time presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) should get a rare turn in the House spotlight this month when his bill to audit the Federal Reserve receives a vote on the floor. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee signed off on the legislation last week, clearing the way for floor consideration. The timing could give a boost to Paul a month before the Republican National Convention, where he is expected to make his presence felt.