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Congress to reconvene, but little expected

WASHINGTON – Democrats bent on showing they can govern and Republicans anxious about a sour re-election climate are pushing a pared-down summer agenda in Congress. Lawmakers want to try to save homeowners from foreclosure, avert Medicare cuts and give the government power to spy on suspected terrorists.

Gasoline prices have emerged as a chief concern among voters. But lawmakers probably will not put aside their partisan blame-fest and compromise on an energy measure that could offer some relief, either immediately or down the road.

The Senate planned to return today and the House on Tuesday. Their abbreviated election-year calendar leaves little time to cut deals. Lawmakers will scatter again in August for their annual monthlong break and the two parties’ presidential conventions.

With their attention turning increasingly to re-election campaigns, not to mention the White House race, members of Congress will be away from Washington much of the fall.

“There just isn’t much sand left in the top of the hourglass,” said Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution congressional scholar. “They’ve done whatever heavy lifting they’re capable of doing.”

In the time that remains, leaders intend to act on an array of politically appealing legislation. Examples include banning lead in toys and approving an ambitious global health initiative – a $50 billion program to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and elsewhere.

The annual measure renewing Pentagon programs could be completed, and a catchall spending measure to pay for government programs through year’s end is a must-pass item.

The promise of a new president and prospects for a different Congress next year have sapped lawmakers’ incentive to engage in major debates this year. Majority Democrats hoping to dominate both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009 have little reason to compromise on their priorities.

“Whose interest is it to settle anything now?” Hess said.

Still, leaders will try for votes on some issues provoking partisan tensions: energy measures; a second economic rescue bill; extending expiring tax cuts; saving tens of millions of people from a tax increase averaging $2,300 due to the alternative minimum tax.


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