Congress woes could presage more to come

By Erica Werner, AP

WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided Congress adjourned Thursday for the election, having accomplished little more than the bare minimum, with lawmakers looking ahead to a lame-duck session and a weighty to-do list already piling up for next year.

A must-pass spending bill, agreed to after an unnecessarily protracted struggle and repeated rounds of partisan finger-pointing, extends government funding until Dec. 9 and addresses the Zika crisis with US$1.1 billion months after President Barack Obama initially requested federal aid. Lawmakers advanced spending for flood victims in Louisiana and a compromise to help victims of lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan.

Obama swiftly signed the spending bill into law.

When they return to Washington after the election, lawmakers will have to complete the annual appropriations process, which fell apart this year even though getting it on track was a top priority for the leaders of Congress’ GOP majorities, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Only one of the 12 must-pass annual spending bills has been completed.

“This is what divided government gets you,” Ryan said Thursday. “You don’t always get what you want in divided government.”

Yet next year is likely to herald still more divisions. Even if Republicans hold the House as expected, manage to win the White House with Donald Trump and hang onto their fragile Senate majority, minority Democrats would still exercise significant power in the Senate. Republican control would be incomplete under the most optimistic scenarios for the GOP.

If Democrats win the White House or the Senate, it would usher in another era of divided government, perhaps even more fraught.

At the same time, Congress and the next president, whether Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton, will confront a series of daunting tasks pushed off into 2017 by a catch-all budget deal negotiated under the former House speaker, John Boehner, on his way out the door last year.

The Debt Limit Perhaps most monumental, the debt limit will need to be raised by around midsummer, something that has provoked intense battles in recent years. Failure to raise it would lead to a disastrous, first-ever default on U.S. obligations like interest payments.

Lawmakers will need to revisit major programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and expiring tax credits for a range of industries. The annual budgeting process will be greatly complicated by the return of tight spending caps on the Pentagon and domestic agencies after two years of hard-fought relief. There will be a Supreme Court vacancy to fill along with less headline-grabbing but still complex and necessary chores, such as reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Given the heavy weight of some those issues, some of them are not going to be delicate by any stretch of the imagination,” said Representative Mark Sanford, R-S.C.