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Break over, Congress heads back to work

Funding deadline, busy agenda loom

Erica Werner Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress return from July Fourth fireworks and parades Tuesday facing a daunting summer workload and a deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown in the fall.

The funding fight is shaping up as a major partisan brawl, with Republicans eager to avoid another Capitol Hill mess as they struggle to hang on to control of Congress and 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, with House Speaker John Boehner denouncing Democrats’ “dangerously misguided strategy” and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accusing Boehner and his Republicans of pursuing “manufactured crises.”

The funding deadline does not even arrive until Sept. 30, but lawmakers face more immediate tests, too. Near the top of the list is renewing highway funding before the government loses authority July 31 to send transportation money to the states right in the middle of summer driving season.

Legislative maneuvering over the highway bill may also create an opening 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 célèbre.

On a less partisan note, the Senate opens its legislative session this week with consideration of a major bipartisan education overhaul bill that rewrites the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law by shifting responsibility from the federal government to the states for public school standards.

The House also is moving forward with its own, Republican-written education overhaul bill, revived after leadership had to pull it earlier this year when conservatives revolted.

But all issues are likely to be overshadowed by the funding fight.

Democrats are pledging to oppose the annual spending bills to fund government agencies unless Republicans sit down with them to negotiate higher spending levels for domestic agencies. Republicans, who want more spending for the military but not domestic agencies, have so far refused. If there’s no resolution by Sept. 30, the government will enter a partial shutdown.

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