The Fall Agenda in Congress, It’s all About November

Posted on August 10, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Members of Congress fanned out to their districts for their August recess, leaving behind key issues like help for small businesses and the fate of Bush-era tax cuts.

In a political climate as toxic as any in recent memory, Democrats hope to use the break to demonstrate to their constituents that their agenda for the economy will work if given time. Republicans, meanwhile, have been surging in recent polls based largely on their argument that after 19 months of Democratic control in Washington the economy remains stagnant.

When Congress returns in September, the legislative agenda will be all wrapped up in politics with both parties seeking victories to bolster their positions come November. Bills dealing with the Bush tax cuts and small business loans are likely to see action. Other controversial matters, like President Obama’s call for immigration reform, probably won’t.

For House members, the recess was cut short when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she was calling them back to work this week to pass legislation that would give cash-strapped states $26 billion to save the jobs of teachers and other state and local government employees.

That shouldn’t take long, giving lawmakers several weeks of their “district work periods” for pre-election-season campaigning back home. Congress returns to Capitol Hill in mid-September.

Perhaps the biggest early-fall gamble lies ahead for Democrats if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) makes good on his promise to force a showdown over the expiration of trillions of dollars in tax cuts passed during the administration of George W. Bush.

The move is fraught with political risk because, while trimming back the tax cuts would give the Democrats at least a claim of fiscal responsibility, it also would give the Republicans new ammunition in their campaign to portray all Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals.

Democrats were surveying members to determine how much, if any, of the cuts could be eliminated without exposing themselves to criticism as tax raisers.

Some Democrats, like Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), want all of Bush’s tax cuts to be renewed. Others, like Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), want to see threshold for qualifying for tax cuts lowered from the current $200,000 in annual income for individuals and $250,000 for families.

Also left hanging when Congress left town was legislation that would help credit-strapped small businesses. The bill would make Small Business Administration loans more accessible and provide $30 billion in funds available to community banks for small business loans.
Causing heartburn for the small business community is the possibility that government-backed loans, including 995 that have been approved since spring, could remain stuck in limbo if Congress fails to act.
While most of the bill’s provisions are backed by a veto-proof 60-vote Senate majority, Republicans blocked final action on the bill before the recess saying Democrats refused to allow them to offer other amendments to the package.

Barring an October surprise, though, don’t expect a packed legislative calendar this fall. The closer we get to Election Day, the less incumbents from both parties are going to want to gamble on risky legislative gamesmanship.

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