Fresh off a five-week vacation, lawmakers return to Washington on Monday for a truncated pre-election session in which Congress will do what it often does best: punt problems to the future.
They face a slew of deadlines and the prospect of a debilitating “fiscal cliff” in January, yet are expected to take a pass on the big issues of taxes and spending cuts. Their focus seems to be on the bare minimum, preventing a government shutdown when the budget year ends Sept. 30.
Democrats controlling the Senate and their House GOP rivals will also try to set up votes intended to score political points or paint the other side with an unflattering brush two months before the election. Their efforts are sure to be overshadowed by the presidential campaign.
Topping the agenda of substantive business is a six-month temporary spending bill to finance the government’s day-to-day operations. The annual appropriations process on Capitol Hill collapsed about midway through the campaign season. The stopgap measure would give the next Congress time to fashion a full-year plan. There would be no more sure way of driving Congress’ approval ratings even lower than for lawmakers to stumble into a government shutdown right before the Nov. 6 vote.