WASHINGTON (Florida Today) -- Spending. Immigration. The debt ceiling. Health care. NASA's future.
And, oh yeah, Syria.
returns to Capitol Hill today with a full plate of sticky issues to
digest, but little appetite - or time - to achieve compromise.
before President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve military action
in Syria, sequestration and the deadline for raising the nation's debt
ceiling had threatened to occupy lawmakers for weeks. Now, Obama's
request will dominate the agenda, with House and Senate votes expected
is a lot that must be done, and there are a number of challenges to
getting it all done," Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledege, said. "We need to
finalize appropriations, deal with the debt, secure the border and
tackle the health care train wreck."
It won't be easy - Democrats control the Senate, Republicans control the House and partisan gridlock reigns.
already talk about punting on fiscal 2014 appropriations bills and
passing a stopgap spending bill that would delay tough decisions on
some lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, say they
won't agree to any spending bill, even a temporary one, if it includes a
penny to implement the 2010 health care reform law.
including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, call that irresponsible. And
even some Republicans eager to repeal the health care law said they
won't adopt such a hard line because it would likely lead to a
if they pass a temporary spending bill this month, lawmakers face the
debt ceiling deadline in October. Congress last voted to extend the
ceiling two years ago as part of the deal that created sequestration. A
second year of sequestration starts in January unless Congress decides
to avert it.
Here's a quick look at some of the thorny issues confronting Congress in the weeks ahead:
1. Spending and sequestration
only nine legislative days left before the fiscal year ends on Sept.
30, prospects for reaching a fiscal 2014 budget deal look dim.
Democrats and Republicans remain hundreds of billions of dollars
apart. That's mainly because GOP lawmakers assume sequestration will
continue into fiscal 2014, while Democrats are generally proceeding
under the assumption Congress will reach agreement on lifting the
Senator Bill Nelson
(D-Orlando) and many other Democrats support raising taxes on
corporations, especially those using off-shore shelters, to trim the
deficit. Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-Miami) and Rep.
Bill Posey (R-Rockledge), oppose tax increases. They want to shrink the
government by cutting spending and reforming entitlement programs.
has asked lawmakers to authorize a limited strike against Syria for its
apparent use of chemical weapons, even though he believes he's free to
order a strike on his own without congressional permission. Such an attack would not involve troops on the ground.
of military action say it's not justified because Syria poses no threat
to U.S. security. Supporters say Syrian President Bashar Assad's
alleged use of chemical weapons does threaten national interests, and
that not responding would leave Assad capable - and willing - to use
chemical weapons against U.S. allies in the region.
Posey and Rubio oppose intervention. Nelson backs it.
sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that voted 10-7
Wednesday in support of the president's plan. He said striking at Syria
"could unleash a series of events that could further destabilize the
3. Health care
Rubio is leading the charge to defund the 2010 health care law. Nelson is one of the law's most passionate advocates.
has joined his House colleagues on 40 separate votes, including one
last month, to stop or roll back all or part of the law. Last month, he
signed a letter with 79 other House Republicans asking House Speaker
John Boehner to defund the law through the appropriations process.
provisions of the law take effect next year. Republicans continue to
pass bills to kill it, even though the proposals have no chance to pass
the Senate. They say a requirement that larger businesses provide health
coverage or potentially face fines - the administration has delayed the
requirement by one year - is prompting companies to limit the hours
their employees work.
The latest strategy by Senate Republicans, including Rubio and
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and other conservatives, is to tie future
spending bills to the defunding effort.
"Every day brings new examples of how this law is hurting working-class Americans," Rubio wrote in an opinion column recently.
Rubio played a key role in helping to build strong, bipartisan backing of immigration reform legislation.
comprehensive bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for some 11
million undocumented immigrants (including some 800,000 in Florida) in
exchange for stronger border security and better monitoring of
foreigners who legally enter the country with a visa but often stay
longer than permitted.
bill passed the Senate 68-32 in June, with Nelson and Rubio in favor.
But it's prospects look dim in the House, where GOP leaders and many
Republican lawmakers, including Posey, want a go-slow approach.
lawmakers say they are leery of allowing undocumented immigrants to
become citizens, given that past assurances of tighter border security
has a 27-year record of broken promises about border security," Posey
said. "After Washington fulfills the promise of border security made 27
years ago, then we can consider other immigration-related issues.'
The fight over spending has cast uncertainty over the nation's space program.
Before they left for summer recess, House and Senate committees were crafting competing visions - and budgets - for NASA.
House, adhering to sequestration parameters, is looking at authorizing
$16.8 billion for NASA in fiscal 2014. The Senate, led by Nelson, is
weighing $18.1 billion.
measure would provide money for NASA's top priorities: a deep-space
mission to Mars, the joint venture with aerospace firms to ferry
astronauts to the International Space Station, and completion of the
James Webb Space Telescope.
while the Senate bill would permit an asteroid retrieval mission the
agency wants to undertake as part of a stepping-stone approach to Mars,
the House measure strictly prohibits it.
while the Senate measure would keep much of the funding for science
missions intact, the House bill would slash it by a third because,
lawmakers said, other agencies are using NASA as a "piggy bank" for