Lawmakers had initially planned to wrap up their lame duck work early in December, but without a solution to the fiscal cliff drama, the date of the final recess for the 112th Congress is now undecided. Among items left on the agenda is the defense authorization bill. The House is expected to appoint conferees to produce a final version of the bill early this week, now that the Senate has completed its work. Key differences that remain are:
• The House included a measure curtailing the military’s ability to invest in green energy, but an amendment to the Senate bill preserves the Pentagon’s power to invest in biofuels.
• Another Senate amendment ensures the government cannot detain Americans and legal residents indefinitely without charging them.
Republicans who control the chamber have yet to reach a deal with the White House on what to do about expiring tax cuts and steep budget reductions set to kick in with the new year.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced on the chamber floor last week, “Members are further reminded that the House will not adjourn the 112th Congress until a credible solution to the fiscal cliff has been found.” The House will appoint conferees for the National Defense Authorization Act now that the Senate has completed its work on the measure, as well as consider a number of noncontroversial bills on the calendar.
The fight over the debt ceiling has come front and center in the Senate. It has long been thought of as one of the last possible points of leverage for the GOP, but exactly how it might be used is still in doubt.
The fiscal cliff will continue to top the agenda next week in Congress, particularly as the two parties squabble over upper-income tax rates. As Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the White House work behind closed doors to make a deal, look for additional Republicans to begin to change their positions on whether to let the tax cuts expire for top income earners. Similarly, look for the Democrats to begin to offer greater detail about the spending cuts they will be willing to make. These two questions will form the backbone of any potential deal.