Members of both the House and Senate will push to pass bills that favor their particular party's agenda ahead of the election.
WASHINGTON - When Congress returns this week, its members will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.
While that unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation, lawmakers, fresh off their parties' conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.
When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership also is considering yet another vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.
In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department's loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They will also continue to pressure Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one passed in the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The automatic military cuts were a result of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, known as the sequester.
"Stopping the coming tax hike on small businesses and replacing the sequester topped our July agenda and remains atop our agenda for September," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Among its first priorities this week, the House will move on a short-term spending measure to keep the government open, ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline for enacting spending bills for the 2013 fiscal year.
While such temporary measures have convulsed the Capitol before, nearly leading to a government shutdown, leaders in both parties expect the process to be less rocky this month as Republicans try to keep Mitt Romney's presidential campaign unblemished by congressional disorder.
But much is left undone.
The fate of the current farm bill, which expires at the end of the month, has preoccupied many voters in agricultural states and has haunted lawmakers at constituent meetings, debates and local and state fairs. In South Dakota, the farm bill was the central topic at a recent debate between Rep. Kristi Noem and her Democratic challenger, Matt Varilek.
Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee's sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.
Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee's bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts overall in the measure.
According to local news reports in states like South Dakota and Iowa, members of Congress have told their constituents that they anticipate a one-year extension of the current bill. But House and Senate officials said last week that there was no clear path to passage and that negotiations over the summer were not fruitful.
On Wednesday, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation will hold a rally near the Capitol to press for approval of a bill. A devastating drought over the summer has inflated commodities prices and ruined many crops, particularly corn in the Midwest.
"The leadership in the House has a dual dilemma," said Dale Moore, deputy executive director of the American Farm Bureau Federation. The House Democrats feel the $16 billion in cuts "is too much, and a number of conservative members feel the cut is not steep enough."
"I have heard a pretty steady drumbeat that members of Congress are hearing from farm families who are making it clear we need to get a farm bill done," he said.