The new 114th Congress will begin this week on Tuesday.  Most of the week will be about conducting the formal start up actions.  That start up includes the selection of the various leaders, all returning from the last Congress with the Senate leaders swapping their majority/minority roles.  We will also see the formal selection of committee assignments with little or no drama expected on either side.

The key debate in this Congress is likely to be around the appropriations and budget process.  The final deal last month provided funding for the rest of FY 2015 which ends on September 30.  The only department left out is Homeland Security.  Republican leaders are expected to use temporary extensions as a tool to restrict the President’s executive order on immigration.  But aside from Homeland Security, attention will turn to future budgets.  If a new agreement is not enacted, then the sequestration process enacted in 2010 will return early next year with across the board budget cuts early next year.  Key budget dates include:  the first Monday in February (February 2) when the President submits his budget to Congress, February 15, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) submits its economic projections.  This could be a contentious time because some of the Republican leadership would like to change the way budgets and deficits are projected with some wanting “dynamic” scoring that would allow the CBO to project cuts in revenue (i.e. tax cuts) as generating revenue rather than increasing deficits.

After that the next key dates include April 1, when the Senate reports its budget resolution and then April 15 when both houses are required to come up with a single budget resolution.  On May 15 appropriations may be considered in the House even if a joint budget resolution has not been adopted by both houses.  By June 10 the House is scheduled to complete the last of the 12 appropriations through the Committee.  June 15 is the deadline for Congress to complete the reconciliation process if one is required by the budget resolution.  The fiscal year starts on October 1.

Although all these dates are set by the Budget Act of 1974, Congress has been consistently missing the target dates for most of the past decade.  If timetables are all followed there will be some other key dates such as the deadlines for groups to submit their funding request to the various appropriations committees.  Dates could also slip especially if there is a reconciliation bill that would allow/require Congress to cut various mandatory and entitlement programs.

In addition to these dates some other must pass items include raising the debt ceiling at some point in late spring early summer, the Medicare “doc-fix” on rates for Medicare/doctors due in March and an expiring transportation budget in the spring.