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Rail Funding, Online Taxes a Few of the Issues on Congress' Plate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
While some House authorizers — including Shuster, left, the Transportation and Infrastructure panel chairman — support investment in high-speed rail, other Republicans remain strongly opposed to the White House plan for a nationwide system of fast passenger trains.

Congress will need to authorize and appropriate funds to support military and civilian activities in Afghanistan. The House and Senate will likely also provide Afghanistan with government and military aid.

Defense Authorization

A defense policy bill has been signed into law in each of the past 51 years. But in an increasingly polarized Congress, final passage of the bill has been delayed until the final days of each of the past two sessions.

The authorizing committees are typically an oasis of relative comity, and panel leaders have worked to maintain good relations in the interests of national security. But James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who replaced Arizona’s John McCain this year as ranking Republican on the Senate panel, has taken a more partisan approach to issues including the drawdown in Iraq, gays in the military and the Pentagon’s use of alternative fuels. Inhofe’s staff contends, however, that the senator prefers to continue the panel’s tendency toward consensus because that has strengthened the Senate’s positions in conference with House lawmakers.


Top members of Congress, business groups and national security experts agree that Congress needs to enact cybersecurity legislation to defend computer networks from attack and economic espionage after not agreeing on a bill last year. But lawmakers have not resolved their differences over whether the government should create security standards for the private sector or just take steps to facilitate threat information sharing between businesses and the government.

Farm Bill

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees say finishing a five-year farm bill is their priority, but they face a more difficult budget situation this year with legislation carrying a multiyear price tag of several hundred billion dollars. The committees also face antipathy in the House and divisions among major commodity groups on changes to farm support programs.

Congress included a renewal and extension of selected farm programs in the fiscal cliff tax package (PL 112-240). There’s already speculation that lawmakers will extend the temporary authorization past its Sept. 30 expiration.

Violence Against Women Act

Top Democrats vow to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the 113th Congress after renewal of the 1994 law — which funds programs to help domestic violence victims — became an unexpected partisan flashpoint in 2012. Last year, Senate Democrats sought to expand the law to include new protections for victims who are gay and lesbian, immigrants and American Indians, but House Republicans backed a narrower version that also included more oversight of the law’s many grant programs. A key question is whether Democrats insist on the broader language Republicans rejected last year.

Internet Sales Tax

Momentum has been building for legislation to allow cities and states to collect sales tax from Internet retailers. By overturning a 1992 Supreme Court decision that prevents state governments from taxing companies that don’t have a physical presence within their jurisdiction, Congress could help states generate an additional $23 billion in annual revenue, while also assisting brick-and-mortar retailers in fending off the challenge posed by online shopping. Leading proposals could advance, given the strong lobbying push from retail associations, governors and state legislators.

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