WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress returned Tuesday from a seven-week recess with Speaker Paul Ryan promising a spending bill by month’s end to keep the government operating.
In the House, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., was tapped to gavel in the abbreviated, election-season session that will last only about 20 days. Lawmakers are scheduled to leave town again in early October to return home and campaign.
There’s a lot on the docket, but there’s only one thing that Congress must do in the coming month: Figure out a way to keep the government open before spending legislation expires Oct. 1.
It may seem like a simple task, but as in previous years, policy disputes between the two parties have kept the House and Senate from completing the required spending bills by the deadline. That means lawmakers will have to pass legislation to extend current spending and keep the government open just weeks before the November election.
Ryan said on a Wisconsin radio show Tuesday morning that there will be negotiations on the spending legislation as lawmakers return.
“We’re coming to the typical kind of stalemate which has become all too familiar in divided government,” Ryan said on AM 1380 in his hometown of Janesville. “It’s very frustrating.”
“But nevertheless we’re going to work through these issues and I’m sure we’ll have a successful outcome to make sure just that the trains are running on time while we negotiate individual spending bills throughout the fall,” the Republican leader said.
Conservatives want an extension until next year, putting off the larger spending fight until then.
But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that he and President Barack Obama will oppose that approach and press for a short-term measure until December. Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, on Tuesday echoed that call.
Hoyer said an extension of current spending “should be in my view be passed as soon as possible, it should go to sometime in December” and budget work should be finished by the end of the year.
Funds to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus are also part of the spending talks. Lawmakers in both parties say they want to pass legislation to help the government combat Zika, but abortion politics stalled legislation to provide $1.1 billion before Congress left town in July.
Republicans added a provision that would block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus, and Democrats blocked Senate passage of the bill. But dozens of Zika cases have been confirmed in the political battleground state of Florida since lawmakers departed, and Republicans and Democrats are expected to revive the fight almost immediately upon their return. On Tuesday evening, the Senate will hold a repeat vote on the Republicans’ Zika bill that Democrats already blocked.
Tuesday also marked the re-opening of the Capitol rotunda after a year-long restoration.
In the Janesville, Wisconsin radio interview, Ryan said he anticipates there will be resolution on Zika dollars by the end of September.
As Congress bickers, a new poll found strong public support for more taxpayer dollars to fight the mosquito-borne virus. Three-quarters of Americans say increased federal research funding is necessary to prevent Zika’s continued spread, according to the poll by the March of Dimes and NORC at the University of Chicago.
A rundown of issues facing Congress:
–Defense policy: Members of a House-Senate conference who are working to write a final defense policy bill for the coming fiscal year are grappling with a range of issues, including the total amount to spend on the military and whether women should be required to register for a potential military draft.
–Hillary Clinton: Furious the FBI didn’t recommend charges against their political rival over her private email server, Republicans now are demanding that the Justice Department open a new investigation into whether the Democratic presidential nominee lied during testimony last year before a House panel investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
— Iran: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week that Republicans controlling the chamber will pass legislation addressing the Obama administration’s $400 million payment to Iran in January, made immediately after four U.S. prisoners were released. Republicans have also announced they will hold hearings on the payment.
— IRS commissioner: House conservatives are determined to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, saying he stonewalled and impeded congressional investigations into IRS targeting of conservative organizations. Koskinen wasn’t commissioner at the time of the political fallout over Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS office that handled groups’ applications for tax-exempt status. She was held in contempt of Congress after refusing to testify to a House committee, and eventually retired.
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