Congress: What’s Ahead for the Fall

September 10, 2015

pic-capitol-cloudsCongress returned to the Beltway this week with a long list of serious issues to tackle, but lawmakers are likely to be just as focused on the 2016 elections as they are on the near-term policy imperatives. Among the long list of things Congress is likely to tackle this fall: FY2016 spending bills and avoiding a government shutdown; reauthorizing Ex-Im Bank; the Iran nuclear deal; raising the debt ceiling; and tax extenders.

As has been the case for the past several years, Congress is far shy of passing its 12 appropriations bills. To prevent a government shutdown, Congress must pass some kind of spending bill(s) and has only 10 legislative days to do so. Unfortunately, there are several controversial items that are causing even greater turmoil among lawmakers in this process than normal, including efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Congressional leaders have said they hope to get a temporary funding measure, or continuing resolution, enacted for all spending bills by Sept. 24 when Pope Francis is scheduled to address Congress.

Back in June, when Congress failed to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Ex-Im Bank), NSBA and its international trade arm, the Small Business Exporters Association, were highly critical of the politicization that had occurred with Ex-Im. Ex-Im’s proponents are likely to take another run against the GOP hard-liners who’ve killed past reauthorization attempts either by a short-term continuing resolution or attaching it to another must-do piece of legislation.

In other international issues, Congress must vote by Sept. 17 on the nuclear deal with Iran. Republicans have been vocal in their opposition and plan to offer a resolution rejecting the deal, however 41 Democrats have recently said they will support the deal which would ensure Obama’s ability to sustain a veto on the rejecting resolution.

The ever-present debt ceiling continues to be an issue for lawmakers with the current ceiling likely to be reached sometime between late-October and early-December under Treasury’s “extraordinary measures.” Unless Congress acts to increase the federal government’s borrowing authority, the U.S. could face its first ever default. Given the high-stakes nature of this debate and the 2016 elections, it is expected that this will be a messy fight among lawmakers.

Another headache that seems never to go away: tax extenders. At the beginning of 2015, some 50 temporary tax breaks for businesses and individuals expired, requiring Congress to act before the end of the year to prevent significant tax hikes for some small businesses. In 2014, lawmakers waited until Dec. 16 to pass retroactively the extenders package for 2014, giving small businesses less than two weeks to make major spending decisions.

Other issues that also could see floor-time in Congress include: the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization, pipeline safety requirements, children’s nutrition programs, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, patent reform, cybersecurity legislation and overhauling foreign profit taxes for U.S. companies.

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