WASHINGTON – Congress returns to work today with election-year politics certain to shape an already limited agenda.
Republicans intend to focus on every facet of President Barack Obama’s health care law. They see a political boost in its problem-plagued rollout as the GOP looks to maintain its House majority and seize control of the Senate.
First up in the House, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is legislation addressing the security of personal data, part of his party’s effort “to protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare.”
Democrats will press to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour and extend unemployment benefits, trying to cast the party as more concerned with the less fortunate and intent on dealing with income inequality.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said an extension of federal benefits for an estimated 1.3 million Americans who saw their payments stopped on Dec. 28 is more than an economic issue.
“It’s about real people, people with families struggling to put food on the table, to make ends meet, including … 200,000 military veterans who are among these folks who are losing their benefits,” he told reporters Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled a vote tonight on legislation by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., to extend jobless benefits for three months.
However, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is unsure Democrats can cobble together 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle.
“If we don’t get the 60, we will come back at this issue,” he promised.
Republicans hinted they might go along with extending benefits if they win spending cuts from Reid elsewhere to pay for them.
“If the senator comes up with any kind of a reasonable idea to offset the $26 billion, I think that he might find some people that are willing to talk to him,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
Schumer, one of his party’s leaders, said Democrats would prefer to pass the proposal as is – without a way to pay for it, as has been the case for previous extensions. But he told reporters Sunday he would listen to GOP suggestions.
Still, Congress must deal with some significant unfinished business before delving deep into political votes and extended breaks for campaigning.
The Senate was to vote today on Obama’s nomination of Janet Yellen to become the head of the Federal Reserve.
Lawmakers face a Jan. 15 deadline to agree on a spending bill to keep the government running and avoid a partial shutdown that roiled Congress last fall. Passage of legislation in December scaling back the automatic, across-the-board cuts gave the House and Senate Appropriations Committees time to draft a massive, trillion-dollar-plus measure to run the government through September.