A look at major bills that Congress left unfinished as it left for its August recess:
The Senate in June and the House Agriculture Committee in July passed similar bills to set agriculture subsidy and conservation policy and spend almost $100 billion a year over the next five years for farm and nutrition programs. But the House Republican leadership has refused to bring the bill to the floor, fearing a rebellion from conservatives, who say it spends too much, particularly for the expanding food stamp program. Fearing backlash from constituents in rural communities, the House on Thursday passed legislation to revive disaster relief programs for livestock producers hit by the widespread drought. But Senate Democrats, saying that the House should be voting on a comprehensive farm bill instead of a stopgap disaster relief measure, declined to go along.
The U.S. Postal Service defaulted last week on $5.5 billion in scheduled payments to the Treasury for future retiree health care benefits as it waits for Congress to come up with a plan to help it regain fiscal solvency. An additional $5.6 billion due in September is also likely to go unpaid. The mail agency has come up with its own plan to restore profitability by cutting Saturday delivery, closing smaller postal facilities and reducing retiree benefit responsibilities. A Senate bill passed in April took a less aggressive approach, providing an $11 billion cash infusion to help the agency avert a default while avoiding some of the cuts. The House remains stalled over its version and it appears unlikely that it will pass legislation this year. The House would set up a commission to determine facility closures.
Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have approved bills to end Cold War restrictions and extend permanent normal trade relations to Russia. Normalizing trade with Russia is a top priority of U.S. business groups because on Aug. 22 Russia will enter the World Trade Organization and without congressional action, U.S. exporters will not be able to take advantage of the lowering of tariffs and other trade barriers that will accompany WTO membership. Economists estimate that U.S. sales to Russia, now about $9 billion a year, could double within five years if trade is normalized. Congress left without taking up the legislation.
The Senate failed in a final attempt to pass legislation to protect the U.S. electrical grid, water supplies and other critical industries from cyberattack and electronic espionage. Both Republicans and Democrats said they are committed to approving a final bill when they return in September. But deep divisions between the two parties over the right approach to cybersecurity will make it difficult to forge a compromise. The principal stumbling block is what role the Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies should play in protecting U.S. businesses from cyberattacks.
House Speaker John Boehner named lawmakers to negotiate with the Senate on a compromise bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for five years, but progress on the bill remained elusive four months after the Senate reauthorized the act on a bipartisan vote. The 1994 act, created to prevent domestic abuse and protect its victims, expired last year.