What’s Next for Congress


The end of the government shutdown means a return to a somewhat normal schedule as party leaders work toward a fiscal agreement in the next two months.  There’s lots to do. Members have agreed to try again to find a deal on 2014 spending levels. Democrats are hinting that they may seek new revenues, something Republicans will reject. Republicans will likely try again to reform federal entitlement programs, efforts Democrats have resisted before.

But those huge problems are now weeks away, giving Congress a few weeks to take a breather. This will be one of those weeks — the Senate is out, and the House has set up an agenda of bipartisan bills for the week:

The President’s Priorities 

Last week, President Obama outlined his priorities for the rest of the year:

“There are things that we know will help strengthen our economy that we could get done before this year is out. We still need to pass a law to fix our broken immigration system. We still need to pass a farm bill. And with the shutdown behind us and budget committees forming, we now have an opportunity to focus on a sensible budget that is responsible, that is fair, and that helps hardworking people all across this country.”

We’d like to spotlight these issues, and some of the bills that have already been introduced by Congress:

Immigration

In January 2013, a bipartisan group of Senators proposed a comprehensive set of immigration reform principles, which include giving immigrants a path to citizenship, strengthening border security, and reforming our legal immigration system to reunite families and strengthen our economy while protecting American workers. This turned into a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S 744), which was passed by the Senate in June — and had the support of the President. The House has yet to take up immigration reform, but two comprehensive bills have been introduced:

  • Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (HR 15): a comprehensive immigration reform bill. This legislation is based on the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill (S 744). It eliminates the border security language of the Senate-passed bill and replaces it with the bipartisan border security bill, Border Security Results Act (HR 1417).
  • CIR ASAP Act (HR 3163): To provide for comprehensive immigration reform. Increases the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers by not fewer than 5,000 and does not require additional fencing; immigrants who can establish presence in the US on the day of introduction will be eligible for conditional immigrant visa; Those who qualify would receive a conditional non-immigrant visa which is valid for six years and will be able to naturalize under current law (up to 5 years), making the total path to citizenship about an 11-year wait.

The Farm Bill

The House and Senate haven’t been able to agree on a farm bill — and agriculture programs expired on Oct. 1. The House had passed a bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act (HR 2642), which included $39 billion in cuts to food stamps. The Senate’s version (S 954) had $4 billion in cuts to food stamps. On Oct. 12, the House named Members to negotiate with the Senate on the farm bill — and plans to meet soon reconcile differences.

A Federal Budget

As part of the agreement that re-opened the government and raised the debt ceiling, the House and Senate will establish a budget conference committee to come up with a long-term budget plan for tax and spending policies over the next decade. Specifically, the legislation instructs House and Senate leaders to select Members for the committee who “have open minds willing to consider every option, no matter how painful to their own political party,” according to Sen. Harry Reid. Their deadline is Dec. 13, 2013.

Here are some bills related to the federal budget:

  • Consensus Balanced Budget Amendment (SJRes 7): A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to balancing the budget; requires the President to submit to Congress a balanced budget that limits outlays to 18 percent of GDP; establishes a new super-majority requirement for net tax and rate increases and for an increase in the debt limit.
  • Business Cycle Balanced Budget Amendment (HJRes 24): Proposing a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution.
  • HJRes 4: Under this Constitutional amendment, the President must submit, and Congress must pass, an annual budget that is balanced.
  • Business Cycle Balanced Budget Amendment (HR 233): to provide for an orderly process by which the debt ceiling is increased. Would allow Treasury to pay debts unless a super-majority in Congress acts to stop them.
  • Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act (S 554): to provide for a biennial budget process and a biennial appropriations process and to enhance oversight and the performance of the Federal Government.
  • End Government Shutdowns Act (S 29): to provide for automatic continuing resolutions.
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