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New Congress Faces Legislative Mt. Everest

Although 95 new members of Congress were sworn in on Thursday, few among the political cognoscenti believe that comity, collegiality, and compromise are likely to be much in evidence.  While the 112th Congress congratulates itself on averting the fiscal cliff, their inability to come to a reasoned compromise on the entire package – or much else – means that the 113th Congress (which convened briefly for the first time shortly after noon yesterday) faces the immense task of trying to find quick solutions to:

  • how much money (and what types of projects) should be included in the Superstorm Sandy relief bill – the first House vote on the Senate-passed measure comes today with a second, more contentious vote scheduled for January 15;
  • whether to allow another increase (and how much) in the debt ceiling — the nation will reach default status by the end of February;
  • what to do about the sequester portion of the fiscal cliff “deal” now scheduled to take effect March 1 – that could result in widespread government furloughs;
  • whether there is enough political will to actually pass outstanding FY 13 appropriations measures (including funding for EPA) or just extend the existing Concurrent Resolution which expires on March 27 through the end this fiscal year; and
  • as if that wasn’t enough, come to some type of agreement on what should be included in appropriations funding for FY 14.

All of this needs to happen over the next 10 weeks.  However, the House and Senate have reserved about 4 weeks of this time for “constituent work periods” which means members are back in their states and districts rather than at the Capitol.  And don’t forget that these are just the nationally recognized big ticket items.  Legislative initiatives such as those for climate change, infrastructure financing, energy efficiency, cyber and chemical security, nonpoint source pollution control, and hydrofracking are all likely to be introduced and will also need Congressional time and attention.