Can Congress Avoid Another Shutdown?

Kevin McCarthy
Newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at a news conference on June 19, 2014. Jim Bourg/Reuters

The August recess is over, and Congress is back at work in Washington, D.C., Monday. But if you blink, you could miss it.

With the November 4 midterm elections just around the corner, the House of Representatives is hoping to wrap up its work in the next two weeks. The Senate's current plan is to adjourn by September 23.

In that time, Congress has one critical task: to pass a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown when the current fiscal year concludes at the end of the month. Leaders in the House and Senate appear intent on passing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through the elections. No one seems to want a replay of last year's disastrous shutdown just a month before the midterms. The House could turn to the CR as early as Tuesday.

In the House, newly minted Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, sent his fellow Republicans a memo on September 4 with the lower chamber's fall agenda. The list of matters to tackle included the Islamic State terrorist group (best known as ISIS), which dominated international news in August, and a series of bills meant to demonstrate the Republicans' economic agenda ahead of the midterms. And, of course, there are anti-Obamacare bills as well.

When it comes to dealing with the new threat posed by ISIS, McCarthy's memo noted that the House has not yet determined what, if any, legislative response is necessary. Instead, the House will hold hearings with administration officials and members briefings with both administration officials and outside experts. "These hearings and briefings will be absolutely critical in helping us take the appropriate steps necessary to achieve our objective: the defeat of our terrorist enemies," McCarthy wrote.

On the economic front, the House plans to vote on a number of bills aimed at helping the economy through regulatory reform, making it harder for the executive branch to implement regulations and boosting energy production. These include bills to construct the Keystone XL pipeline and prevent the development of new regulations for coal-fired power plants.

After voting dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans plan to tackle provisions of the law this month, including eliminating the 30-hour definition of full-time employment and allowing those who liked their pre-Obamacare plans to continue to use them.

The most drama before November could come over reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which gives out loans to support the sale of U.S. exports abroad. Its charter is set to expire on September 30. Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, conservative outside groups, have put pressure on Republicans to let the bank's charter expire, and reauthorization was notably absent from McCarthy's memo. Republicans themselves are split on the issue, while Democrats support reauthorization.

In the upper chamber, the Senate will vote on a constitutional amendment to limit outside money in politics—a political move in keeping with Democrats' attempts to paint the GOP as the party of the Koch brothers. After that, they will likely turn to their own economic-messaging bills, focusing on issues like college affordability and the minimum wage, according to Roll Call.

In a few short weeks, it will be back to the campaign trail. The House is expected to stay in Republican hands, and most political drama will come down to a handful of states that will determine control of the Senate.