Politics

September 8, 2013

Syria looms over already busy agenda in Congress

Lawmakers return Monday, the president will address the nation Tuesday, and an initial Senate vote is likely Wednesday – Sept. 11.

By ANDREW TAYLOR and DONNA CASSATA The Associated Press

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrive for their meeting at the Quai d' Orsay in Paris on Saturday. Kerry traveled to Europe to court international support for a possible strike on the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons while making calls back home to lobby Congress, where the action faces an uphill battle.

The Associated Press

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Without a deal, those automatic spending cuts could become entrenched through all of next year and possibly into the next several years.

A 2011 agreement called for a total budget of $1.058 trillion next year to operate federal agencies. The automatic spending cuts triggered by failing to follow up with further deficit cuts by curbing benefit increases, raising taxes or both would pare that figure by $91 billion, to $967 billion for the 2014 budget year.

A comparable spending figure for the soon-to-be-completed 2013 budget year is about $988 billion. The additional cuts looming next year come almost entirely from defense.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., says many Republicans on his committee want to reverse the defense cuts as a condition for voting for the resolution authorizing military strikes on Syria.

Avoiding a shutdown is just one step. The administration says the government's ability to fully pay all its bills, including interest payments to bondholders and Social Security benefits, will run out some time in October unless Congress raises the $16.7 trillion cap on its borrowing authority.

That legislation could be even more vexing because Boehner and tea party Republicans see it as leverage to force further spending cuts or other Republican priorities into law.

Obama agreed in 2011 to Boehner's demand that spending cuts equal the size of the debt limit increase, but the president says he won't do it again. Republican leaders say such a "clean" debt limit increase Obama wants is a nonstarter.

An immigration overhaul could get lost in the shuffle.

The Senate in June passed a broad bill that would allow millions of immigrants now in the country illegally to stay, work and eventually acquire citizenship. House Republicans reject what they call a special path to citizenship in the Senate bill and favor a piecemeal approach that begins with better securing U.S. borders before excusing most people who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas from being deported.

Revelations this summer about the National Security Agency's spying prompted demands from some in Congress to rein in the programs; a series of hearings is scheduled.

Lawmakers also are pushing for major changes in how the military handles cases of sexual assault in their ranks.

And, Congress will have to finish a farm bill before the end of the year if lawmakers want to avert the threat of milk prices doubling for consumers.

 

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