WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2014 – With the curtain rising on Monday on Congress’s last weeks of work before the November election, both insiders and outsiders expect to see a near-bare stage – with all of the actors preoccupied.
Not only is there very little legislation expected, but there is only a two-week window in which the House and Senate are both in session this month -- the week of the 7th and 14th -- which means not much will have time to pass through both chambers. The Senate plans to adjourn by Sept. 23, and the House is scheduled to leave town a week later, on Oct. 2, to allow time for members to campaign before the Nov. 4 election. All 435 House members and 28 senators are up for re-election.
During those weeks, neither the House nor Senate agriculture committees have any meetings or hearings scheduled, according to spokesmen for the two panels. If the House Agriculture Committee does schedule a hearing sometime during the three weeks it is in session this month, spokeswoman Tamara Hinton said it would likely focus on the implementation of the Farm Bill.
Observers say the only possible legislation that could emerge within the narrow window of opportunity is some type of federal budget extension, since the government’s fiscal year and its spending authorization ends on Sept. 30. But while neither party is considered eager to repeat the saga of past government shutdowns, there is not likely enough time for appropriating committees to consider and pass separate spending bills. Which means a continuing resolution, or CR as it is known in Capitol Hill lingo, is the most likely outcome to keep the government running until at least after the election.
“The most likely approach would be a CR to cover things,” Dale Moore, executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Agri-Pulse. “I don’t think either side of the Hill wants to go down the road, in an election year, of not having taken care of what happens after Sept. 30.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, also said on Tuesday that he believes a continuing resolution is the only legislation likely to emerge in September, unless Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., keeps the chamber at work longer.
“If we’re only in session for 12 days between now and the election, the only thing that’s going to get done is the continuing resolution,” Grassley said.
Immigration reform remains a top priority of many, including the Farm Bureau, given the large share of the agricultural workforce comprised of migrant workers. But although the Senate has already passed an immigration bill, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, earlier this year shut the door on the House considering it before the election.
“It is very difficult to see a path forward on immigration, certainly before the election,” he said.
The Farm Bureau is also watching the path of ‘tax extender’ bills that have been stalled in the Senate, but Reid has said the $85 billion package of tax breaks for businesses and individuals won’t be taken up until after the election.
Another possible piece of business that could re-emerge in September is an international treaty that would establish rights of disabled people when they travel to foreign countries. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities has already been signed by 146 countries as well as the European Union, but Republicans in the Senate blocked it two years ago despite vocal support from their party’s 1996 presidential candidate, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and the 2008 candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee revised the treaty and passed it this summer; the House does not vote on treaties, as specified by the Constitution.
After the election, the House plans to return for a lame-duck session on Nov. 12, while the Senate has not yet announced its return date.
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