This week in Congress: CR, farm bill face hurdles

Lawmakers return to Washington this week for their last work period before the fall election and face the enormous task of averting a government shutdown by passing all of the spending measures they failed to do so this year in one omnibus bill.

The House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, have an agreement to pass a so-called continuing resolution (CR) to keep government operating at the same spending levels for a six month period, allowing them all to side-step most controversial decisions until early next year.

The trick will be whether they pass the CR by the Sept. 30 deadline without any additional or emergency spending measures that would add to the nation???s growing deficit.

Also set to expire on Sept. 30 is the farm bill, which includes massive spending for the food stamp program. A key disagreement is how much spending can be cut from the program ??? the Senate funded at $4 billion less while the House wants to cut $16 billion. Both sides failed to reach an agreement before the August recess, and some congressional aides say the impasse is unlikely to be resolved before the election. Another temporary extension is likely for the farm bill, as well as disaster aid for farmers and ranchers facing financial ruin from the summer drought.

Meanwhile, the Senate could take up an authorization bill for the Pentagon and a paycheck fairness bill. The House may consider legislation to help coal companies cut through a regulatory maze constructed by the Obama administration, but with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding the Senate, no agreements are expected before the election.