Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Congress returns: Could do, probably won't do

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN Capitol Hill Reporter
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Outside of emergency action, expectations for significant legislation after August are low during this midterms year.
Outside of emergency action, expectations for significant legislation after August are low during this midterms year.
  • Congressional agenda frozen in election-year politics
  • Expectations of significant action after August are low due to campaign schedule
  • Handful of bills must be dealt with,

(CNN) -- Nearly May, yet lawmakers returning to Congress this week still must wear jackets to fend off chilly mornings. And they still have to brace themselves for a long to-do list that remains frozen in election-year politics.

2014 midterms: What's at stake

Key races to watch

Think of the rest of 2014 as the "could do" but probably "won't do" Congress.

The Calendar

Most American look at the calendar and see eight months left in the year.

Members of Congress see the three months left until August, when they leave on a month-long recess and most transition to full-time campaigning.

Leaders could plan significant votes in September and will likely hold a "lame-duck" session after the election, but outside of emergency action, expectations for significant legislation after August are low.

Boehner mocks members on immigration
Buffett not sure on minimum wage

Must Pass

A handful of lonely bills wear the "must pass" label, legislation that nearly everyone agrees lawmakers must and will pass.

First up: replenishing the multibillion-dollar Highway Trust Fund, which is within months of running out of money and then causing work stoppages on federal road projects.

"That's something that has to happen," said Joel Friedman, vice president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The D.C. think tank leans left, but shares the view of most on the highway fund: at the least Congress must pass temporary spending to keep transportation projects alive until a longer-term deal.

"It could be one of those things that they just punt, just do something to get us into the next year and leave it to the next Congress."

Also must pass: keeping government running. Yes, again. The current federal spending bill runs out at the end of September.

But there is no appetite for another shutdown. And October is prime-time campaign season. As a result, many expect some kind of temporary funding bill, or continuing resolution, which could be passed as soon as the end of July.

Dems find a lane to run on ObamaCare
Are Democrats backing away from Obamacare?
IP: Changes to GOP's Obamacare strategy?
The Political Reality of Obamacare

Need to Do, Likely to Do

A full platoon of tax credits, more than 50 of them, is in limbo and needs to be resolved by the end of the year. Some of these are critical to business decisions, including the research and experimentation credit.

As long as Congress delays action on the so-called "tax extenders," millions of businesses have no guidance on whether certain spending will be deductible or not.

"How can a small company that needs (the tax credit) and wants it, how can they make plans when they don't when or whether it's going to be (put into law)?" asked the Bipartisan Policy Center's Steve Bell.

The Republican worked for more than two decades in the Senate, including years as the staff director for the Senate Budget Committee.

Others in the need-to-pass and possibly-could-pass category: the annual defense authorization bill and renewing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which backs up the insurance market for terrorism-related losses.

Do Be Do Be Not Done

Otherwise, a universe of major issues will go unresolved this year. A sort of doo-wap chorus of problems put on political repeat in recent years.

Immigration. Mental health. Major jobs legislation. Long-term unemployment. Medicare insolvency. Future, exploding debt.

Boehner mocks House GOP colleagues on immigration

Maybe immigration reform isn't dead after all

"It's not unsurprising that nothing major is happening in an election year," said Friedman. "That said, obviously with the split houses," he laughed, "there hasn't been a huge success rate coming up to ths point."

Who will win the battle for the Senate?
Fired up and ready to go in 2014?
Congressional approval hovers at 13%

May do: smaller things

The big, tough issues seem out of play, despite leaders of both parties often publicly recognizing the problems.

But some smaller things could happen.

Senate Democratic leaders are considering bringing a few bipartisan bills to the floor in coming weeks. One tackles energy efficiency. Another manufacturing.

Both of those sync up with general efforts also underway by the House.

Otherwise, expect Congress to fill its days with votes that are mostly statements, likely to pass one chamber and then be killed by the opposing party in the other.

Examples? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada, has set a Wednesday vote on raising the minimum wage.

Minimum wage: Congress stalls, states act

In the next two weeks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican of Virginia, has told his members that they will vote on charter school reform.

And House Republicans continue to swing punches at Obamacare, vowing to propose their own health reform proposal later this year.

Will GOP's Obamacare focus pay off?

Why are some Dems running from Obamacare?

Obama: Republicans 'were wrong' about Obamacare

It is still chilly in Washington. But the weather, it seems, is likely to change more quickly than the politics.

"We're waiting for the Congress to get to work," said the Bipartisan Policy Center's Steve Bell. "But if they don't, I'll just plant my tomatoes and watch them grow."

Biden goes on offense over GOP economic agenda

Can Mr. Jones stay in Washington?

Special Coverage: The 2014 midterms

Part of complete coverage on
See the full results for who won the Senate, House and governor midterm elections.
updated 9:26 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Attention Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and everyone else "seriously considering" a run for president.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
You know that Republican doctor who got one of his patients pregnant and then demanded that she get an abortion? Yeah, he won.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
The 2014 midterm elections brought a historic victory for Republicans, handing the GOP its largest congressional majority since World War II.
updated 10:10 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
It was a tough night for Democrats -- who will be looking for a leader for 2016 -- and a big night for the GOP -- who may have a few more names to consider.
updated 10:43 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
A Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama.
updated 9:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
The House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday's midterm election.
updated 7:22 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has won re-election in Kentucky, staving off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to a CNN projection.
updated 2:06 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Sen. Ted Cruz lauded the Republican Senate takeover, but shied away from endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell to lead the new majority.
updated 11:31 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
CNN asked commentators for views on the results of the midterm elections, in which the GOP took back the Senate and retained control of the House.
updated 8:17 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
South Carolina's Tim Scott became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Voters in Oregon and D.C. have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization while voters in Florida gave the thumbs down.
updated 7:59 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republicans continued their dominance of governor's mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats.
updated 11:14 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Republican David Perdue has won the race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat occupied by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
updated 1:09 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
First-term Democratic incumbent North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lost in a tight contest against GOP challenger Thom Tillis.
updated 10:09 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, according to a CNN projection.
updated 7:21 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republican Scott Brown lost his second Senate race in two election cycles, failing to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
updated 7:51 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Former Gov. Charlie Crist conceded Florida's close gubernatorial race against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
updated 6:49 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with President Obama's administration and GOP leaders, according to exit polls released and analyzed by CNN.
updated 9:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Take a look around the country in our gallery as America votes.
Who's giving to outside groups? It's not just candidates and parties spending the cash.