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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Congress tackles unfinished agenda

Andrew Taylor Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Like a student who waited until the night before a deadline, lawmakers resuming work today will try to cram two years of leftover business into two weeks, while also seeking to avoid a government shutdown.

Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses, and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row.

Also pending are President Barack Obama’s requests for money to combat Islamic State militants, battle Ebola and deal with the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who have crossed into the U.S.

Among the lower-profile items on the agenda are renewing the government’s terrorism risk insurance program and extending the ban on state and federal taxes on access to the Internet.

The tax-writing committees are trying to renew a bundle of expired tax breaks such as the deduction for state and local sales taxes and the research and experimentation credit. Some, like tax credits for renewable energy projects such as wind farms, are a hard sell for GOP conservatives but eagerly sought by Midwestern Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

The House has passed legislation that would make several of the tax breaks permanent; the Senate’s approach has been to extend them only for 2014 and 2015. Negotiators appeared to near an agreement last week only to have the White House put it on ice with a veto threat. The administration said an emerging plan by House Republicans and top Senate Democrats was tilted too far in favor of businesses.

The president’s authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria expires Dec. 11. Lawmakers probably will renew it while postponing action until 2015 on a broader, new authorization to use military force.

Legislation to renew the government’s terrorism risk insurance program, which expires at year’s end, is eagerly sought by the construction, real estate and hospitality businesses. But negotiations between the chairman of the House Financial Service Committee, GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Senate Democrats, including Charles Schumer of New York, appear to have stalled. The program serves as a backstop in the event of a terrorist act that causes more than $100 million in losses.

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