Members of the House returned to Washington today to clean up before the end of the year, but there isn’t much time before they will head out of town for Christmas. Items on the agenda include food stamps, the budget, Iran, and Medicare, among others. That’s a lot to do in a short period of time, and even if the House got to everything on the agenda, the Senate won’t be in session for another week.
One of the biggest items on the to-do list is the House-Senate budget. A conference committee with Members from both Chambers has been working to sort out the differences between the Republicans and Democrats and they must report their agreement by December 13. This budget will help guide their colleagues, especially Members of the Appropriations Committees that write spending bills, to complete the necessary legislation before the current continuing resolutions expire in mid-January. One of the biggest issues facing the conference committee Members is how to avoid the automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester. Republicans want to avoid automatic cuts by targeted cuts to domestic spending, whereas Democrats want the government to haul in more money. When the conference committee was first created, there was some talk about an ambitious deal, but no one expects such an agreement at this point.
A week before Thanksgiving, Senate Democrats used a controversial procedure known as the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for all Executive and Judicial Branch nominees except for the Supreme Court. Many wondered how the Republicans might respond. Congressional Institute President Mark Strand commented on the matter in National Journal.
November’s filibuster elimination was only one battle in a long partisan war. Since partisanship has been increasing over the past couple decades, some in the Washington establishment have been working to reduce the acrimony. Enter No Labels, a group dedicated to establishing a working Washington—but it’s been having considerable problems.