The Republican-run Congress is back in Washington for its last pre-election session and plans call for lawmakers to knock off and go home to campaign on Sept. 29 and no later than Oct. 6. That means they’ll leave a lot of unfinished business behind.
Inattentive voters may be forgiven if they get the impression that all Congress has to do this month is national security — passing defense and homeland security spending bills, a port security measure, reaffirming President Bush’s eavesdropping authority and allowing him to proceed with military tribunals.
Republican leaders want the public to focus on national security, where they believe their party does well, and keep its eyes off the other issues — spending, immigration, ethics, lobbying reform — where the party hasn’t fared so well.
The price of a heavy focus on national security is that domestic spending bills, those that fund most other government operations, will remain unpassed by the Oct. 1 fiscal year deadline. Lawmakers may have to cut popular domestic programs to afford all that national security spending, but if they do, it will be in a post-election lame-duck session when it’s too late for voters to exact reprisals.
Immigration reform may also wait until a lame-duck session, if it is addressed at all. Republicans are deeply, maybe hopelessly, divided over immigration, and there is little enthusiasm for a divisive fight on the eve of the election campaign.
Partisans of cutting the inheritance tax thought they had put Democrats in a box by pairing it with a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage, but they may have outsmarted themselves and now may get neither one.
The House leadership is considering making permanent the $1,000 child tax credit and a tax break for married couples, although they don’t expire until 2010, as tax cuts are always good election-year politics.
The House plans to lead off its brief few weeks of legislating with a measure to ban the transport of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption. Somebody has to tackle these tough election-time issues.