What to Watch in Congress Next Week

With Congress on break for most of August, Washington has been lulled into sleepy stasis. The town will wake up on Monday, when members return to finish out their sessions. They will be racing to overcome partisan gridlock on several key pieces of legislation before leaving town in October to gear up for elections.

The Senate's first item of business will be a small business bill that has been stalled since July. The bill would provide up to $30 billion in credit to small businesses, as well as $12 billion in tax cuts. Though it began as a somewhat bipartisan effort, with several Republicans pitching in during the drafting process and traditional GOP allies such as the Chamber of Commerce lending their support, negotiations broke down over amendments and Democrats were stuck with what looked like 59 votes.

But in a recent interview with The Washington Post, Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican who's retiring this year, said that he would vote yes. His one request is that Majority Leader Harry Reid schedule a vote on an amendment to reduce paperwork for small businesses. If Voinovich follows through on his promise, he could provide a big legislative victory for Democrats going into the midterm elections. Obama has repeatedly harangued Republicans for holding up this bill, so a pre-midterm passage would play as a victory for the White House.

In the latest iteration of attempts to stall EPA greenhouse gas regulations before they go into effect in January, Republican senators may move to restrict the agency during a markup of the EPA appropriations bill. Politico's Morning Energy reports that environmentalists are worried about this tactic: "EPA's Republican opponents would only need a couple of Democrats to get language into the bill in the committee, and they have some prime candidates in Byron Dorgan, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor."

The Senate Appropriations Committee will also have to schedule markups of the legislative and defense spending bills; they will settle on timing next week.

Other things to keep an eye on: the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on September 21 to discuss the national infrastructure bank Obama proposed in his Labor Day speech. The concept is not new -- Sens. Christopher Dodd and Chuck Hagel introduced the National Infrastructure Bank Act in 2007, hours before the Minneapolis Bridge collapsed -- but so far it has not received a floor vote. The question over Obama's proposal is how to fund it -- an increase in the gasoline tax would make the most sense, but that will be a nearly impossible sell before, or after, midterms.

The Food Safety Bill, which has tripped over a BPA-banning provision and general Senate gridlock, will get extra attention thanks to the recent egg recalls. Whether the egg-related outrage will be enough to prompt a vote before October, however, is another story.
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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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