Last week Congress returned for the remainder of their summer session with votes and debates on education and uncertainty on other key issues including the budget.
The Senate began what is expected to be a two week debate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the House voted on their bill HR 5 on Wednesday night. Beyond that issue is what Congress will do to extend the highway trust fund set to run out at the end of this month and how to deal with twelve appropriations bills that are far from what the Administration is seeking. Also lurking in the background is potential budget reconciliation.
The budget resolution directed key congressional committees to come up with a reconciliation dealing with the ACA by July 24. It is not at all clear that congressional leaders will use the reconciliation for repeal of the ACA, whether they will use it for something else such as a tax overhaul, or whether they will use it at all. Under some interpretations the reconciliation order could be used at any point in this Congress which runs until the end of 2016. Some conservative members, especially in the House, still want it to be used to repeal the ACA but as the election gets closer some vulnerable senators are not as interested in such a bill and a vote. In all likelihood reconciliation will be a partial repeal of the ACA which in turn would be vetoed by the President.
The other big challenge that will occupy Congress this month is how to extend the transportation trust fund. The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993 when Congress increased it by 4.3 cents per gallon. In the past decade Congress keeps funding flowing into the trust fund by borrowing from the general fund. Congress needs to come up with $11 billion for a year or else some road projects could shut down across the country while other projects could be delayed under such year by year uncertainty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected a tax increase in comments last week. In the meantime, Democrats, led by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) have said Democrats would reject a short term extension and want a longer term permanent reauthorization.
The Congressional summer break starts on July 31 through September 7