Little From Congress Now … And Maybe Later

If you already thought Congress was in gridlock and you could count the quantity of meaningful legislation without using too many digits, don’t expect much this week — or even post-election. So says Congressional Quarterly, an authority on all things Washington.

A portion of its analysis from last Friday:

If this September session of Congress seemed largely pointless before it even began, that feeling only got stronger this week. The Senate managed to push its veterans’ jobs bill into the second half of the month, while the House passed noncontroversial bills and took a few symbolic votes on fiscal issues in addition to moving the six-month CR (continuing resolution). If the Senate clears that stopgap bill next (this) week — which would be refreshingly well ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline for action — it’s possible that only a few more days of wheel-spinning will remain before everybody goes home to campaign for the rest of the fall.

That’s largely because the month’s other big deadline-driven decision — what to do about the expiring farm law — doesn’t seem to have an immediate solution. And some lawmakers in the know, including Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on House Agriculture, say there won’t be one before the election. That means the 2008 farm law would expire at the end of September, and federal support for dairy products and commodity crops would revert to formulas set in the 1940s, which would pay significantly more to farmers than what they get now.

If September has been uneventful, what about December? The lame duck might not produce much significant long-term legislation, either, even though both sides could make the argument that they’ll have new leverage once the election results are known. Leverage aside, the calendar is a powerful thing — especially when the holidays are ahead. And it seems increasingly improbable that Congress can write a comprehensive response to the budget sequester and the expiring tax cuts in a single hectic month. There might be dramatic votes on Christmas Eve, but the odds favor those votes being on short-term solutions to the fiscal cliff, with the 113th Congress being the forum for all the big decisions.