A budget deal has finally been worked out between the Bush administration and congressional leaders, but Congress is far from having its work done. Most major pieces of legislation are still unfinished even as the House and Senate itch to adjourn. Many members want to hit the campaign trail.
Because of pending elections, Oct. 19 is suggested as the latest that members can stay in session. That leaves very little time to accomplish all that still must be done.Despite the controversial deficit-cutting deal, a budget has not yet been adopted. Congress undoubtedly will meet the budget deadline this weekend, but the process is likely to be rancorous and bitter. The vote might even be close.
While the budget debate is in process, most other bills will continue to languish for lack of attention or agreement. These measures include a civil rights bill, an omnibus anti-crime bill, child care, a new clean air act, housing reform and political campaign reform.
Trying to pass major laws in the final two weeks of a session is a paradox: it is both easier and harder.
It is easier because everyone is trying to get home and measures that could never make it on their own can be tacked onto vital legislation that must be approved. In the rush to adjourn, lawmakers often don't take the time-consuming steps to slice those amendments out of the package. Some of the worst things Congress does are accomplished this way.
At the same time, it is harder to pass bills. Minor filibusters can torpedo legislation because of the critical lack of time. Four major bills and worthwhile bills were killed by talk last week. Anything that is controversial and likely to require extended debate becomes questionable.
This session has two other problems.
First, Bush has threatened to veto several major items. Those threats cast clouds of doubt over even the more popular measures. It would be difficult to deal with presidential vetoes before the 101st Congress ceases to exist at year's end.
Second, the budget deal may sharply limit spending for new programs. Congress will have to act within a framework that requires it to implement $500 billion worth of spending cuts and tax increases.
Taken altogether, Congress may end up by not passing some of its better legislation and and the same time, producing some of its worst.