[authors: Thomas J. Spulak, Lauren M. Donoghue]
With the 2014 Midterm Elections less than seven months away, the issues driving the remaining days of the 113th Congress must be viewed in their political context. Many political observers are calling the Senate a toss-up and just one or two races could decide who holds power in the upper chamber in 2015. Close races and few legislative days (around 50) mean Members will be very cautious about what policy issues they focus on, and even more cautious about what they vote on. Republicans are expected to hold on to the House, but whether they add to their majority is still a topic of debate.
In an effort to preserve hold of the Senate, Democrats are focusing of ways to appeal to the middle class by debating bills that fit into their so-called "economic fairness agenda." Passage of unemployment insurance (UI) continues to be a top priority for Congressional Democrats. Debate over the bill has been going on ever since UI benefits for the long-term unemployed expired last December. Republicans maintain their fervor that the extension be paid for, or that they receive something - such as a vote on the Keystone Pipeline - in return. Failure of the Senate to pass the Pay Equity Act, due to all but a few Republicans voting against, provided Democrats with a win in one recent news cycle.
Republicans in the House continue to focus considerable efforts on oversight of the Administration. On Wednesday, the House voted to hold Lois Lerner in contempt over the IRS targeting scandal. Today, the House passed a resolution creating a special committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. And of course, Republican-led committees in the House continue to use any and all opportunities to conduct oversight of Obamacare and deficiencies of the law, real or perceived. These investigations seem likely to continue to play out on the Hill, and in the media, over the next several months leading up to the election.
Meanwhile, immigration reform, patent reform and legislation to address cybersecurity remain mostly dormant. The Senate put off expected votes on a bipartisan energy efficiency bill and on approval of Keystone. A bipartisan housing finance bill introduced last month in the Senate got derailed even before a mark-up was held.
Other than a few appropriations bills (discussed in further detail in an article here by George Crawford), Congress is unlikely to pass anything of note before the November elections. Expiring tax provisions – commonly referred to as "tax extenders" – have a good chance at passage, but most likely not until the lame duck session. In fact, the lame duck session may offer the most hope for anything else of substance getting done this year.