The lawmakers' to-do list would be daunting under the best of circumstances: a major energy bill, legislation to rein in President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, 11 of the 12 annual bills to fund the federal government, a farm bill, and a bill to stave off the expansion of the alternative minimum tax.
THE BUSH AGENDA
President Bush is pushing Congress to approve his $196 billion war funding request and finish its debate over rules for government eavesdropping within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In his weekly radio address, Bush also urged lawmakers to pass the rest of annual government spending bills -- but not in "one monstrous piece of legislation" filled with money for special interests. And he said he wants Congress to send him legislation that keeps middle-class Americans from being hit by the alternative minimum tax.
THE TAX THING
The alternative minimum tax (AMT) was created in 1969 to ensure that a small number of wealthy people could not use tax breaks or deductions to avoid paying any taxes. It was never indexed for inflation, and every year the AMT net falls on more middle-income taxpayers. This year some 4 million people could be subject to the tax.
If Congress fails to pass legislation in the next two weeks, the Internal Revenue Service is considering delaying the start of its filing season to avoid affecting tax refunds. If there is a delay and it extends into mid-February, it would slow nearly 32 million refunds worth a total of about $87 billion, the IRS Oversight Board predicted last week.
POOL SAFETY BILL
Pool safety legislation passed the House in October and was on the brink of becoming law last month. But in a twist that could happen only in Washington, the measure has run aground -- an unlikely victim of a senator's crusade against wasteful government spending.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fiscal conservative, thwarted two recent attempts in the Senate to pass the bill by unanimous consent by placing a hold on it, as he has done with a total of 95 bills because they authorize new spending without offsets elsewhere in the federal budget.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the bill's original House sponsor, described Coburn's action as "callous." "We can prevent [drownings]," she said. "Now there is one person standing in the way."
Parts of the measure seek regulations to prevent the kind of accident that severely injured Abigail Taylor of Edina who was disemboweled by an open drain in a wading pool at a St. Louis Park country club.
The House has passed a $50 billion bill that would keep war operations afloat for several more months, but set a goal of bringing most troops home by December 2008. After Bush threatened to veto the measure, Senate Republicans blocked it. Democratic leaders now say they won't send Bush a war spending bill this year at all. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is holding a news conference Monday to discuss Democrats' efforts to change course in Iraq.
A RACE BY LOBBYISTS
Business lobbyists, nervously anticipating Democratic gains in next year's elections, are racing to secure final approval for a wide range of health, safety, labor and economic rules, in the belief that they can get better deals from the Bush administration than from its successor.
Hoping to lock in policies backed by a pro-business administration, poultry farmers are seeking an exemption for the smelly fumes produced by tons of chicken manure. Businesses are lobbying the Bush administration to roll back rules that let employees take time off for family needs and medical problems. And electric power companies are pushing the government to relax pollution-control requirements.
"There's a growing sense, a growing probability, that the next administration could be Democratic," said Craig Fuller, executive vice president of Apco Worldwide, a lobbying and public relations firm. "Corporate executives, trade associations and lobbying firms have begun to recalibrate their strategies."