With every recent poll putting Congressional approval under 20%, and many under 10%, there is no question that they have a lot of work cut out for them. Everyone has a different priority but there are certain key items that must be addressed on Capitol Hill very quickly.
Congress will need to pass legislation to prevent a government shutdown come October 1, the beginning of the government’s new fiscal year. Congress has thus far failed to pass the formal major appropriations bills needed to fund the various government departments in the new fiscal year. Given that Congress will only be in session for nine days during the month of September, they will almost certainly not attempt to pass major and contentious funding overhauls. Rather, they will likely pass a continuing resolution – a stop-gap measure that will keep the government funded through the end of the calendar year.
Passing the continuing resolution may not be an easy lift though, as a small but vocal group of GOP representatives have promised to force a government shutdown unless the administration voluntarily defunds the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican leadership, however, seems disinterested in a major showdown over the continuing resolution and will likely look at other legislative vehicles as means to get the spending cuts they want.
Immediately following the continuing resolution, Congress will need to address another financial debacle. The government will reach its borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling, in mid-October, which would leave the government unable to pay its bills and provide basic services like social security checks and military salaries. In exchange for raising the debt ceiling, Republicans are demanding significant cuts to spending. House Speaker John Boehner says he is gearing up for “a whale of a fight” with the White House. Boehner says he is committed to not increasing the debt ceiling without spending cuts and fiscal reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.
Following these two priorities, it is unclear exactly what the next big ticket item on the Congressional agenda will be. Immigration reform is a priority for Senate Democratic leadership, but the House GOP has no plans to move to the comprehensive immigration reform plan that passed out of the Upper Chamber this summer. Instead, they are planning to move a package of several bills out of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees that together form a complete reform proposal. Democrats remain committed to only approving reforms that address the legal status of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, while Republicans are only willing to take action that will stand to benefit the business community.