This week in Congress: Sandy, Benghazi, fiscal cliff

The long-awaited lame duck session of Congress has arrived, and legislators will return from a lengthy recess to a laundry list of urgent problems.

On the top of the agenda for both parties may be requests for supplemental appropriations to cover the Federal Emergency Management Agency???s response to Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc in New York and New Jersey at the start of this month. The Disaster Recovery Act of 2011, authored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) with Republican co-sponsor Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), which would update disaster definitions and streamline federal response systems, may also receive attention.

Also headlining: Closed-door hearings in the House and Senate to probe the events that led to the deaths of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September. The Senate Intelligence Committee announced it will be hearing from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, potentially CIA Director David Petraeus, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olson and others on Thursday, while the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee also announced closed hearings this week, without releasing a witness list.

Meanwhile, the fiscal cliff???a nightmare combination of more than $1 trillion in defense and domestic budget cuts set to take effect Jan. 2 and the imminent expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax breaks???looms over the heads of the members. Leaders in Congress have indicated that they???re open to a reasonable compromise proposal from President Barack Obama, but if the president continues to emphasize levying high taxes as a way to get top earners to ???pay their fair share??? rather than focusing on real fiscal reform, the congressional gridlock will continue.