After July Fourth fireworks and parades, members of Congress return to work Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a pending deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown in the fall.
The funding fight is shaping up as a major partisan brawl against the backdrop of an intensifying campaign season. Republicans are eager to avoid another Capitol Hill mess as they struggle to hang onto control of Congress and try to take back the White House next year.
Already they are deep into the blame game with Democrats over who would be responsible if a shutdown does happen. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has denounced Democrats’ “dangerously misguided strategy” while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California accuses Boehner and his Republicans of pursuing “manufactured crises.”
The funding deadline does not even arrive until Sept. 30, but lawmakers face more immediate tests. Near the top of the list is renewing highway funding before the government loses authority July 31 to send much-needed transportation money to the states right in the middle of summer driving season.
The highway bill probably also will be the way lawmakers try to renew the disputed federal Export-Import Bank, which makes and underwrites loans to help foreign companies buy U.S. products. The bank’s charter expired June 30 due to congressional inaction, a defeat for business and a victory for conservative activists who turned killing the obscure agency into an anti-government cause celebre.