Congress' year-end unfinished business list may remain long
But this is a largely do-nothing Congress, so most of those tasks might go undone in these last days of the 2013 legislative session.
To illustrate the point: Only the House of Representatives was in session this week, and Republicans and Democrats spent much of their time pointing fingers. The Senate will return Monday for two weeks. The House plans to leave for the year next Friday.
His charge provoked a brief defense on the House floor from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who methodically ticked off all the legislation the House has passed - and the Senate has ignored or killed.
Though Democrats control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, Republicans still could create enough procedural hurdles so that little gets done beyond considering nominees.
The Watt debate could still last eight hours, while other nominations could take as much as 30 hours each. Republicans aren't disclosing their strategy.
Republicans contend that Watt, a 19-year House veteran, has backed lower standards for obtaining mortgages, which helped spur the government takeover of the quasi-government agencies. They also want someone with more experience in the housing finance field.
In October, 56 senators voted against a potential filibuster.
. Budget deal. Those close to the talks are cautiously optimistic about a deal. Negotiators are eyeing an approximately $1 trillion annual blueprint for discretionary spending - the amount under Congress' control. The two chambers might vote on the guidelines before leaving, and their appropriations committees then would come up with details of how the money would be spent.
_Farm bill. Legislation to set agriculture - and nutrition assistance - policy has been stalled for months. The deadlock shows signs of easing, as lawmakers have been discussing how much to cut the nutrition aid programs. But the philosophical barriers will be difficult to overcome.
Democrats counter that such aid is crucial for those who need it most. A key clue as to progress will be whether negotiators seek to extend the current law on a short-term basis, giving them more time to craft a compromise.
"They need to be asked do they really want 1.3 million people out in the cold with all their children on Dec. 29," said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top House Ways and Means Committee Democrat.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., an adviser to Boehner, isn't buying it: "The unemployment rate is coming down, and the Republican position all along is we have to go back to normal at some point."
_Defense. The mammoth bill spelling out defense policy has been hamstrung by lawmakers eager to amend the measure. The Senate debated the bill last month and a floor update is scheduled Monday. Progress has been stymied by a host of issues, including disagreements over measures to toughen provisions regarding sexual assault in the military.
Democrats might be reluctant to have that debate on the Senate floor the month after the administration announced a six-month deal with the Iranians to ease some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear program.
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