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September Congressional Agenda: Must-Pass Bills and Messaging Gambits

Boehner wants to contrast House action with Senate inaction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With Congress back in town Monday after five weeks off, plenty of Republicans and Democrats have made it clear the session's No. 1 priority is passing a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.  

There's also a lot of bipartisan consensus, it turns out, on No. 2 — which can be summed up fairly neatly under the heading "Make the Other Guys Look Bad Ahead of the Elections."  

In a final, jam-packed sprint to Nov. 4 — the House is in session just 12 days, the Senate 15 — members in both chambers will be scrambling to check off those top two items, and a few others as well.  

First Things First.  No one wants another government shutdown. Federal funding runs out on Sept. 30, so Congress has to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep agencies operational or risk a repeat of last year’s disaster that put congressional approval ratings at an all-time low. Leaders on both sides of the aisle and rotunda say they want a policy-rider free CR that runs through early December, but some Republicans could revolt over immigration executive orders or reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.  

Which Leads Us to ... Reauthorizing the Ex-Im.  Funding for the institution that underwrites sales of U.S. goods abroad will expire at the end of the month, and its future is shaky: Far-right lawmakers say the Export-Import Bank represents corporate welfare , while other Republicans say that dissolving the institution would be catastrophic for small businesses. There’s growing interest in extending the bank’s charter for just a few months to buy Congress more time to reach a long-term agreement, but aides to senior GOP lawmakers caution that a deal on how to proceed is still elusive.  

War on ISIS.  It’s not clear whether Congress will be compelled to act on legislation authorizing air strikes in the region following the execution by Islamic extremists of two American journalists. But calls are coming from both sides of the aisle for Congress to definitively authorize President Barack Obama to use force against ISIS, the group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq. For the time being, the only planned House response is in the form of committee hearings. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, an aide said that “we are many steps away from knowing whether this is going to be an issue to come to Congress or not.”  

The GOP 'Closing Argument.'  Republicans intend to pass a number of jobs and energy bills over the next few weeks in what Speaker John A. Boehner referred to recently as a “closing argument” before the midterms: The GOP is working for Americans, while “the leader of the dysfunctional, do-nothing Senate plans to spend the final legislative days before November talking about the Koch brothers.”  

Spotlight on Benghazi.  Along with taking already-passed bills and re-bundling them to send over to the Democratic Senate a second time, House Republicans will also remind voters that they are paying attention to national security concerns: South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the specially-created committee to probe the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, will convene the panel’s first hearing this month.  

Pelosi's Aces: UI, Immigration. Democrats don’t control the legislative agenda in the House, but they have a couple of cards they can play to try and spare their party of some bloodletting this fall. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's troops will likely continue to support White House plans to use executive orders to grant more stays of deportation to undocumented immigrants in light of the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive overhaul legislation. They will also undoubtedly focus on the GOP’s refusal to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program, nine months after funding lapsed.  

Speaking of the Koch Brothers ... In the Senate, Democrats will kick off their first day back by proceeding with a vote to cut off debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited campaign spending by corporations and individuals. They are banking that Republicans filibuster the effort so they can spend their remaining weeks before the midterms reconsidering items from Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “fair shot” agenda, the first of which would be a bill to improve college affordability. A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage would follow.  

Senate Republicans Playing It Safe.  Reid's Republican colleagues, anticipating a banner year at the polls in November, have not tipped their hands as to how they want to spend September. To thwart Reid’s wish to force politically loaded votes on the Senate floor, GOP leaders could urge members to allow debate on the campaign finance bill — the quintessential symbolic messaging measure that will never advance.  

Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. House, Senate Laying Groundwork for War on ISIS House GOP Plan for September: Shame the Senate Boehner Defers to Hensarling on Export-Import Bank (Updated) McConnell, Reid Spar Over Campaign Financing

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