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Congress returns (briefly) to try to avert government shutdown

September 10, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro
  • The U.S. Capitol building
The U.S. Capitol building (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers are returning to their day jobs after a month on the campaign trail, and will try to accomplish one of Congress' key tasks: funding the government.

But they won't be here for long. The House is set to work eight days this month, and the Senate about a dozen. After that, lawmakers will resume the season's primary activity of campaigning to get reelected.

The one must-do item on Congress' work order is passage of a bill to keep the government running past Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The House is expected to approve the bill later this week, with the Senate to follow before the end-of-month deadline.

A bill like this once drew the ire of Republicans, whose newly emboldened tea party majority in the House threatened a government shutdown over its passage 20 months ago. At that time, they pushed the shutdown threat to the midnight hour as they fought for deep spending cuts across domestic programs.

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But cooler political heads seem to be prevailing now, with just weeks to go before the fall election.

Gone is the shutdown threat as lawmakers seem poised to simply approve the government funding and move along.

Not all rank-and-file Republicans are satisfied with today's spending levels. They want deeper cuts and are not likely to go along with this week's votes. But it has been a testament to House Speaker John A. Boehner's ability to wrangle his often unruly majority -- one he hopes not to lose this fall -- that the shutdown threat has been shelved.

Congress is also set to consider a five-year extension of portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which governs spying in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks.

The rest of the congressional agenda largely consists of partisan messaging votes geared to rev up voters from both parties in the countdown to Nov. 6.

The GOP-led House is set to approve the "No More Solyndras Act," which is legislation aimed at preventing a repeat of the Energy Department’s $535-million loan guarantee to the California-based solar manufacturer that ended up going bankrupt.

Meanwhile, the Senate, with its Democratic majority, will be pushing a Veterans Jobs Corps initiative.

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The legislation, from the to-do list President Obama gave Congress earlier this year to help spur economic growth and ease unemployment, would establish a $1-billion effort to give veterans returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere priority in fire and police department jobs, as well as training in other fields.

Neither bill is expected to gain much traction on the legislative front. But politically, both are seen as able to reap benefits.

Republicans will use the Solyndra bill to keep the president's loan program front and center.

And for Democrats, the vets bill will serve as a reminder that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney failed to mention veterans and the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech.

With those talking points in hand, lawmakers will depart for the campaign trail.

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lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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