After five-week recess, Congress might cut September session short

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After a five-week summer recess that President Obama mocked as a “vacation,” the House and Senate might only be in session for a handful of legislative days before lawmakers head home to campaign for the midterm elections.

The most pressing task that awaits lawmakers is passage of a funding bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Many lawmakers and business groups are also demanding action to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which will shut down at the end of the month, unless its charter is renewed.

{mosads}But beyond those two issues, there are few pressing legislative matters, which should allow the leaders of both chambers to use time on legislation that reinforces their election themes and helps candidates in tough reelection races — provided they don’t decide to head for the exits instead.

Both chambers will reconvene on Monday. The House will be in session for two weeks and then recess for Rosh Hashanah the week of Sept. 22. The House is also officially scheduled to return for the week of Sept. 29, but members might not return after the recess if they finish their to-do list. A final decision on that week’s session has not yet been announced.

President Obama repeatedly blasted Congress over the last month for taking a five-week “vacation” without acting on items, such as funding to address the surge of child migrants crossing the border.

Members often refer to the recesses as “district work periods” and bristle at the suggestion that they are off the job when they aren’t in Washington.

There is precedent for making the fall session shorter in election years. In 2012, the House similarly shortened its fall session to give members more time to campaign in their districts. The House was in session for eight legislative days in September 2012, and GOP leaders canceled the remaining one week of session scheduled for the first week of October.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday outlined the September agenda to his members, which includes votes on a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1, a resolution condemning the Obama administration for not notifying Congress about the exchange with the Taliban for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and a measure allowing people to keep their insurance plans under the healthcare overhaul.

The House will also vote on consolidated packages of so-called “jobs bills” it has already passed, such as expediting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and extending expired tax credits.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has set a full agenda in the Senate, saying he wants to hold votes on all appropriations bills, reauthorization of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, the Export-Import Bank, the National Defense Authorization Act, and a constitutional amendment regarding campaign financing.

If there is time, Reid said he would also like to revisit legislation on the minimum wage, student loans and women’s access to contraceptives. Democrats are using those issues ahead of the midterm elections to draw contrast between the two parties.

Reid said he would force senators to work through weekends in order to complete work by Sept. 23 — before Rosh Hashanah.

“Following the August recess, we’re going to be here for two weeks and two days,” Reid said ahead of the five-week vacation. “That’s not a lot of time for the workload we have to do.

“There will be no weekends off,” he said.

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