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Congress Seeks Action on Stopgap

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow is hoping to pass a five-year agriculture program authorization before the end of the month. Some farming interests have indicated that in the absence of a long-term bill, a short-term extension would be acceptable.

Failing passage of a long-term bill, passage of a short-term extension would be acceptable, he said.

"We are aware that there is a need and would have to accept that an extension is much preferable to no action at all," Moore said. It was unclear how short an extension would be acceptable to Stabenow and farm interests, but her measure has long been seen as a potential agenda item for the post-election lame-duck session. That could mean the issue would be before Congress again this year. Another option would be to extend the measure through March, similar to the CR.

Congress could also seek to pass a stand-alone extension, which would put pressure on the opposing party to follow suit or be blamed for allowing the programs to expire.

Expiration could also be a strategy in which one party seeks political gain by blaming the other party, as they vie for votes in farm states, such as Iowa.

But Moore said he hopes that the rally will show that allowing the farm programs to expire would hurt a wide section of constituencies and thus make the issue a political loser.

Moore said failure to act could lead to a rise in food prices, which would come in tough economic times and wreak havoc on the farming industry.

The Senate will vote Tuesday on whether to take up a bill from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to help veterans get jobs, including establishing a veterans jobs corps to employ veterans in conservation, recreation and resource management projects on public lands, and as firefighters and police officers.

Senate Republicans are likely to vote to begin debate on the bill, but that decision will not formally be made until Senators get a chance to discuss their strategy at their weekly Tuesday lunch.

A senior GOP Senate aide said Republicans will be looking for an open amendment process. But Democrats have said that the GOP abuses the amendment process by seeking to be dilatory or to score political points at the expense of legislating.

One possible GOP amendment could take on the issue of the fiscal cliff, which Republicans argue they have sought to address but contend Democrats are not.

Both parties have sought to extend the expiring 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts. Republicans sought to extend them to all taxpayers for one year, while Democrats wished to extend them only to households making less than $250,000 a year. Both proposals failed to achieve filibuster-proof majorities in the Senate before the summer recess, and the outcome is not likely to change.

Another possible GOP amendment could seek to replace automatic defense spending cuts, known as sequestration, set to begin in 2013. Democrats may also seek to offer amendments related to sequestration.

"I hope we can find a way to address the sequestration threat of Jan. 1," Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in Charlotte, N.C., where Democrats held their convention last week.  "It has to be done on a bipartisan basis ... [and] it has to include revenues as well as spending cuts."

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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