258 days to go

With the passage of the payroll tax holiday bill, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that legislating will go into hibernation until after the election. 

But such wisdom is often wrong. And the election is still 258 days away. 

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In recent days, congressional Republicans have chided the White House for suggesting that the extension of the payroll tax was the last must-pass bill before Nov. 6, 2012.

There are a handful of bills that both President Obama and Republican legislators want to get done in the months ahead, including a ban on congressional insider trading, a line-item veto, the White House’s government reorganization plan and some type of measure that would halt scheduled cuts to the Pentagon. 

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act has broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The line-item bill was crafted by Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), leaders of the normally partisan House Budget Committee. And the cuts to the Defense Department are opposed by members on both sides of the aisle, though there is not yet common ground on the remedy. 

Other bills that have at least a shot of becoming law range from transportation to education to cybersecurity. 

Senate Democrats have passed a China currency bill that the House has not yet acted on. Likewise, House Republicans are pushing the Senate to approve the Keystone pipeline project and other measures that have not been voted on by the upper chamber. 

Meanwhile, discussions about a farm bill have been under way for more than a year. 

Legislating in an election year is not easy, and with both congressional chambers and the White House up for grabs, attempting to pass bills will be viewed through an election prism. 

House Republicans’ plan, for example, to scuttle portions of Obama’s healthcare reform law and call for more domestic drilling. Similarly, Senate Democrats will vote to raise taxes on millionaires and seek passage of a scaled-back immigration reform measure.

None of these bills will pass, but the votes will be ammunition on the campaign trail.

The odds are against a sweeping bill becoming law in 2012. Yet lawmakers passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Tax reform passed in 1986, welfare reform cleared Congress in 1996 and the Troubled Asset Relief Program became law in 2008. The common thread? They were all election years. 


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