(CNN) -- House lawmakers get back to work Tuesday after a long August recess, joining their colleagues in the Senate for the final pre-election session before midterm elections.
Whether to extend expiring Bush tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year or just for those who earn less will be the hot-button issue for the session. For Democrats who are trying to retain control of Congress, it's a thorny matter -- the issue of whether to raise taxes during an economic downturn.
A must-pass bill for Congress is a temporary spending measure to keep the government funded through the beginning of the fiscal year that begins on October 1.
It's needed because none of 12 appropriations bills needed to run Washington and the rest of the federal government for the coming year have been passed yet.
Both chambers are likely to approve a short-term measure to keep the government running through late fall, which means Congress would need to pass another bill in a "lame duck" session after the midterms.
A long-stalled Democratic measure designed to increase small-business hiring is considered a likely candidate to clear Congress. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, gave the package an unexpected boost last week when he agreed to vote with Democrats and break a GOP hold on the bill.
Pre-election political jockeying is expected to stall all other Democratic proposals on Capitol Hill.
Recent polls have suggested that Americans are not only overwhelmingly concerned about the state of the economy -- but do not approve of the way Democrats and Obama are handling it.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released last week found that 46 percent of Americans say that Republicans in Congress would do a better job dealing with the economy; 43 percent say that Democrats would do a better job. The GOP's advantage of 3 percentage points is within the poll's sampling error.
The Republicans' edge is a big shift from last year, when Democrats held an advantage of 52 percent to 39 percent. The GOP leads 51 percent to 32 percent on the economy among Independents, and the party has a 9-point advantage on the issue among voters 65 and older.
Because of low poll ratings, Republicans are expected to make strong gains during midterm elections, possibly enough to attain a majority in both houses of Congress, analysts say.