Congress comes back into session on Monday after a five-week August recess and is expected to consider a wide array of pressing legislative priorities from a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria to a new farm bill. With just 39 legislative days left before the end of the year, here is ThinkProgress’ guide to the issues confronting Congress:
Syria. President Obama kicks off a lobbying campaign to win Congressional approval for a resolution authorizing force against Syria. While whip counts show that Congress is still skeptical, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to schedule the first test vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said that he will wait for the Senate to act before bringing the measure to the floor.
Keeping the government open. The House of Representatives will start work this week on a short-term spending bill to keep the federal government functioning at current funding levels through Dec. 15. The measure, which could include riders to defund the Affordable Care Act, has to pass before the end of the fiscal year on Sep. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
Debt ceiling. Congress will have to vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, which stands at $16.7 trillion, by mid October, when the Treasury Department estimates the U.S. will hit the debt limit. A vote to raise the debt ceiling would pay for the spending Congress has already enacted and is not a determination of how much much the nation should spend or whether it will raise the money to pay for spending. In a memo to lawmakers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) pledged that “the House will act to prevent a default on our obligations before” the limit is breached, although Republicans have insisted that will be accompanied by spending cuts. Leaders have previously claimed that they plan to hold the national debt ceiling increase hostage until President Obama agrees to mandatory spending cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration has pledged not to negotiate over the debt ceiling.
Immigration reform. The House of Representatives has been slow to take up immigration reform since the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive bill that includes a path to citizenship in June. Although several top Republicans have indicated that they could support eventual citizenship for at least some undocumented immigrants, House leadership insists that it would not bring the Senate bill to a vote on the floor. On Sunday, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) said “he expected Syria to delay a debate on immigration, potentially halting action until 2015.” Immigration advocates remain optimistic, however, “citing the broad coalition behind the legislation ranging from Silicon Valley to evangelical groups and the political reality that Republicans are unlikely to ignore the issue before the midterm elections.”
Farm bill. In July, the House voted to sever food stamps funding from the federal spending that guarantees the agricultural industry a baseline income, one month after the Senate approved a sweeping measure that finances “dozens of price support and crop insurance programs for farmers and food assistance for low-income families.” With the two chambers at a standstill, the farm-bill programs could lapse at the end of the month while food stamps “is expected to be continued at current levels after Sept. 30, unless Congress decides to change them.” Meanwhiole, Republicans are expected to propose $40 billion in reductions to food stamps, double the amount they tried to pass in June.
Defense authorization bill and reforming sexual assault. A bipartisan proposal offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to remove the chain of command from the adjudication process on sexual assault and other serious crimes in the military is expected to be introduced as an amendment on the floor during debate over the National Defense Authorization bill. The measure has attracted broad bipartisan support — from the likes of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — some advocates fear that the Syria conflict may move the issue to the back burner.