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Congress' week: Supercommittee scramble, balanced budget pitch, gun debate

November 14, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro
  • A busy week lies ahead in Congress as the House-Senate supercommittee nears its deadline for providing a deficit-reduction plan.
A busy week lies ahead in Congress as the House-Senate supercommittee nears… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

The House and Senate are both in session this week, but the main focus on Capitol Hill will be the workings of the secret supercommittee on deficit reduction that is approaching its final days to cut a deal to reduce the nation’s deficit by $1.5 trillion.

The committee technically has until Nov. 23 to vote on a proposal, but it must post it 48 hours ahead of time, which is one week from today. Expect long days and nights under the Capitol dome as lawmakers on the 12-member panel shuttle proposals back and forth to strike a deal.

“The 23rd of November is going to be an historic day in this country -- historic because we found a solution and began a process, or historic because we, as Americans, for the first time looked the other way,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is not on the panel, as he implored his colleagues from the Senate floor to find consensus.

The House returns for a one-week stint with a full agenda before recess for a long Thanksgiving holiday, with the top priority being passing a funding bill to keep the government running past Friday.

Congress has forced the federal government to operate with stop-gap funding this year, almost shutting down the government as debates have raged over spending cuts.

This week’s vote is expected to cool to a more measured agreement to simply keep government open. The proposal is expected to be a hybrid: funding some agencies through the end of the 2012 fiscal year while funding others only until December when the next stop-gap will be needed.

The House will take up the government funding bill first, by midweek, sending it later to the Senate for final passage, likely by Friday.   

Jobs have been the stated focus of both Democrats and Republicans as the unemployment rate remains a top issue for voters. At the same time, the GOP-led House will take up another measure designed to appeal to its conservative base – a long-fought 2nd Amendment provision that would allow conceal-carry permits to be recognized across state lines.

The House will also take up a proposed balanced budget amendment -- a perennial conservative favorite that was promised as part of the summer debt ceiling debate. Balanced budget amendments to the Constitution have been attempted before, but never cleared the long hurdle of passing both chambers of Congress and being ratified by the states.

The Senate will continue to make its way through a package of fiscal 2012 spending bills, including funding for the State Department and foreign aid, areas that are being targeted for cuts.

Then again, those battles could pale in comparison to the days ahead for the final push of the supercommittee.

lmascaro@tribune.com

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