WASHINGTON — Congress returns Monday with a basic task – act quickly to keep the government open, and then race home to campaign.

After a five-week summer break, lawmakers face a shortened September session with a tight must-do list: Pass a temporary spending bill to fund federal departments and agencies through mid-December and extend the freeze on taxing access to the Internet.

Votes also are set on largely futile measures designed to pack a political punch eight weeks before an election that will determine control of Congress.

Wasting no time, the House is scheduled to vote Thursday on the spending bill.

Several lawmakers have clamored for giving President Obama new authority to use military force against Islamic State militants who have seized parts of Iraq, terrorizing religious minorities and threatening the central government in Baghdad.

The militants beheaded two American journalists in Syria, prompting calls for military airstrikes in that country.

But the Obama administration has not indicated that it wants a congressional vote and there is little consensus in Congress on any legislation, or even whether it’s necessary.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama can use force against the militants in Iraq or Syria based on the military doctrine that if someone “is attacking you or your ally you can respond.”

The president ordering airstrikes or taking other military steps without a vote is “within the realm of his power,” Sessions, R-Ala., said in an interview.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the committee, has drafted a resolution authorizing Obama to use military force against Islamic State militants in Iraq, Syria and wherever else they threaten U.S. interests.

Some Republicans are reluctant to give the president any new powers in the absence of a detailed strategy.

Obama has pledged to degrade and destroy Islamic militants but has not come out with a strategy for dealing with the group. Republicans and some Democrats have seized on that concession, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., alluding to it in a campaign ad.

Committee hearings and briefings from administration officials will be part of the September agenda, starting Tuesday when Obama plans to welcome the four bipartisan congressional leaders to the Oval Office for a meeting. During the week of Sept. 15, Secretary of State John Kerry is due to testify before Congress about the Islamic threat.

That same week, administration policies will receive further scrutiny as a special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, holds its first public hearing.

The high-profile session will focus on whether the State Department has put in place recommendations for improving security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic outposts worldwide.

With an eye toward the midterm elections, House Republicans have scheduled a vote this coming week on a resolution that condemns Obama for failing to notify Congress in advance about the May swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders.

Congressional investigators said last month that the administration broke the law with the deal.

The administration has defended the swap and its decision to keep Congress in the dark, saying concern about Bergdahl’s health and safety required speedy action.

Faced with fast-moving crises overseas, leading Democrats and Republicans have called for the U.S. to arm Ukraine as it struggles with Russian aggression, but it is unclear whether Congress will act.

The House has scheduled just 12 days in Washington. The Senate plans to stay until Sept. 23.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.