As It Returns, Congress Has Full Plate
AUDIE CORNISH, host: And as you've just heard, Congress is indeed back in session this week. And there's much more than just the joint session on their plate. Right away, the House will pick up where it left off with their political brawl over spending and the nation's debt. And after spending so much of the summer talking about the debt ceiling, there are all kinds of issues still hanging. Joining us from Capitol Hill to tell us about those issues is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. Hi, David.
DAVID WELNA: Hi, Audie, and welcome to this new gig. We'll miss you here on the Hill.
CORNISH: Thank you, David, so much. I'm going to miss it up there. And right away I'm missing a big speech by the president. And, obviously, President Obama wants to hit the reset button on the domestic agenda, but what's on the Republican agenda?
WELNA: Well, as you know, Audie, the president will be laying out his own plan for more jobs on Thursday before a joint session of Congress. But the Republicans who run the House have their own jobs plan, and last week they announced they'll be mounting an all-out offensive this fall against government regulations, especially those related to the environment, all in the name of saving jobs and creating new ones. Now, Mr. Obama seems to want to get out ahead of them on this, because late last week he put on hold until 2013 the EPA's plans to issue tougher anti-smog ozone standards. And that move could put the president in better standing with business, but it's infuriated a lot of environmentalists and a lot of his core supporters as well. They say this isn't about saving jobs; it's really about just saving the president's job at the expense of a lot of people suffering from respiratory ailments.
CORNISH: Is there any other issue that could overshadow the fall session the way the debt ceiling debate did this summer?
WELNA: Yes, there is, and it's the same issue the debt ceiling fight was over - deficit reduction. The deal raising the debt ceiling called for a sort of supercommittee, made up of six Republicans and six Democrats. And their job is to come up with at least another $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, whether through more spending cuts, increased revenues or both. And they only have until Thanksgiving to agree on a plan to do so. That supercommittee meets for the first time this Thursday and then holds a series of public hearings over the coming weeks. If they do agree on a plan - and that's a big if - Congress as a whole would have to approve it by Christmas. And if that doesn't happen then next year's spending bills, including the Pentagon's, will automatically be reduced across the board to get that deficit reduction. So, there's a huge incentive to reach agreement, which does not necessarily mean they will.
CORNISH: So, that's the supercommittee and it dealing with this sort of big question about the debt. But at the same time, we still have the new fiscal year coming up, right? And correct me if I'm wrong, we still have work to do there.
WELNA: Yes. And, you know, there was a huge fight last spring over funding the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year.
CORNISH: Right. We almost have a government shutdown then.
WELNA: That's right. But I don't think that's going to happen this time because the debt ceiling deal had in it an agreement for spending limits for each year. And since they don't have to fight that fight over how much money will be spent next year, I don't know if we're necessarily going to see all that being refought. But there could be a lot of disagreement simply over a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government in business because none of the 12 annual spending bills has actually been passed by Congress. The idea that they could get those done in the next three weeks is simply too much to believe. So, I would expect we'd have at least some sparring if not a showdown by the end of the month.
CORNISH: Oh man. More sparring, a potential showdown - it sounds like the tensions aren't really easing between the two parties.
WELNA: Well, you know, if last night's spat over which night the president could address Congress is any indication, I think we're in for some pretty bare-knuckled brawls this fall on the Hill.
CORNISH: All right. NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna. David, thanks so much for talking with us.
WELNA: You're quite welcome, Audie.
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