WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Here is some of the
unfinished work that awaits the U.S. Congress when it returns on
Monday after a five-week recess:
Perhaps the only measure that will receives final
congressional approval between now and the Nov. 6 election will
be the one to keep the government up and running into the new
fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.
TAX AND SPENDING CUTS
Lawmakers face a wave of decisions on tax and spending
issues to avoid what has been dubbed a "fiscal cliff" at the end
of the year. If Congress fails to act, tax rates will rise and
massive spending cuts will go into effect.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said that the United
States will likely hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit after
the election but before year's end. He has said that the
Treasury has tools to push out that deadline into early 2013.
Dozens of tax breaks expired at the end of 2011, including a
research and development tax credit for businesses and one that
lets financial institutions defer taxes on some profit. Many
congressional observers believe Congress will renew many of the
breaks, known as "tax extenders," in a post-election session.
A cut in the payroll tax that funds the Social Security
pension program was extended earlier this year with the aim of
boosting consumer spending. The current 4.2 percent tax rate
paid by about 160 million workers is down from a previous 6.2
percent rate and expires on Dec. 31. It is unclear whether the
tax break for workers will be extended as part of any
Pressure is building to pass a farm bill to replace a 2008
law that expires on Sept. 30. If there is no action, lawmakers
will likely extend the current law and take a run at the bill in
the post-election session.
The House and Senate disagree on how far to go in
redesigning farm subsidies and how much to cut in food stamps
for the poor. The House Agriculture Committee has proposed the
biggest cuts in food stamps in a generation, $16 billion.
After more than a year of haggling, lawmakers are still
seeking a deal to revamp the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service.
The Senate passed a bill that would end Saturday mail
delivery, allow the agency to use surplus funds in a retirement
account and reduce the amount the Postal Service must set aside
for retiree health benefits.
But House leaders complain that the bill would postpone the
mail agency's problems, not fix them. Rural lawmakers criticize
the House measure, which would create oversight groups to close
postal facilities and cut costs.
Senate Democrats say they are confident they can defeat a
House-passed bill that would subject the Federal Reserve's
monetary policy decisions to a congressional audit. Critics
charge that the bill would jeopardize the Fed's independence.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Democrats charge that a House-passed bill to renew the 1994
Violence Against Women Act would undermine the existing law and
inadequately protect gays, illegal immigrants and Native
Americans. Republicans accuse Democrats of being more interested
in playing politics than enacting meaningful legislation.
Congress is under pressure to approve "permanent normal
trade relations" with Russia to ensure U.S. companies share in
the full market-opening benefit of Moscow's recent entry into
the World Trade Organization.
U.S. firms fear they will be left at a disadvantage unless
Congress takes the action. But Russia's support for Iran and
Syria may undermine the effort.
(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro, Richard Cowan, Donna Smith, Chuck
Abbott, Tim Ahmann, Emily Stephenson and Doug Palmer; Editing by