A Long To-Do List

There's a lot for Congress to accomplish before it can head home for the holidays.

There’s A Whole Lot For Congress To Do Before The Year Ends

Legislators returned to Washington today for the final month of work before the 113th Congress comes to an end. In fact, it looks like it won’t even be a month: the current schedule calls for the House and Senate to only be in session this week and next week.

But there is a lot for legislators to get done in that short period of time. Here are a few of the biggest things on Congress’s agenda before the new year:

1. Preventing a government shutdown. Congress needs to pass a budget by December 11, which is when the last continuing resolution expires. They can either pass an omnibus bill, including all 12 spending bills, or another short term continuing resolution. The GOP remembers the repercussions they faced the last time they decided to shut down the government. But their anger about President Obama’s immigration action (even though he was following in the footsteps of presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan), coupled with their recent midterm victories, could make them feel like they can be even more intransigent than they normally are.

2. Renewing tax breaks. On January 1, fifty-five tax breaks worth billions of dollars are set to expire. Last week, Harry Reid reportedly reached an agreement with House Republicans that would eliminate key tax breaks for the middle class while extending those for corporations. President Obama threatened to veto this bill, and now Reid, according to a spokesman, is insisting that any tax deal include extensions for the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, two key middle class tax breaks that were previously on the chopping block.

3. Approving nominations. There are a number of executive branch nominations that are outstanding in the Senate — and won’t get any easier to get through once the GOP takes the majority next year. Among those is the nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. America hasn’t had a Surgeon General since July 2013. With a health crisis like Ebola still at risk, the country needs a health communicator-in-chief now more than ever.

4. Other funding requests. President Obama has asked Congress to fund several other things, including $5 billion to fight the Islamic State in the Middle East and $6.2 billion to combat Ebola in West Africa. Today, in the wake of the Ferguson decision, Obama also announced that he wants Congress to authorize $75 million over the next three years to help local police departments purchase up to 50,000 body cameras for their officers.

That’s a lot to ask for in two weeks, especially from the least productive Congress in history. And today, Harry Reid threatened to keep the Senate scheduled until Christmas to get it all done. “We may have to be here the week before Christmas, and hopefully … not into the Christmas holiday,” Reid said. “But, there are things we have to get done.”

BOTTOM LINE: From keeping the government open to approving key nominations, there’s a lot for Congress to accomplish before it can head home for the holidays. We are hopeful that elected officials will do everything they should before heading home. After all, their terms don’t end on Election Day.

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