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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Members of Congress may have a special feeling as they gather in Washington this week. Lawmakers can look around and know that unless something changes before the November election, quite a few of the people in the room will not be back next year.

In a moment, NPR's Cokie Roberts has analysis on why Democrats are in trouble this fall. We begin with the question of what lawmakers might still accomplish in the next few weeks.

Here's NPR's Audie Cornish.

AUDIE CORNISH: Make no mistake, there's plenty for Congress to do. But what will actually get done? I went to the annual conference of the American Political Science Association in a nearby Washington, D.C., hotel to get the skinny from the experts.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

INSKEEP: My name is Michael Mezey. I'm from DePaul University in Chicago.

INSKEEP: I'm Diana Dwyre, and I'm a professor at Chico State University in California.

INSKEEP: I'm Thomas Doyle. I'm a visiting assistant professor at the University of Denver.

INSKEEP: All right, the question once again?

CORNISH: The question is what - if anything - do you expect to see Congress actually do between now and November?

INSKEEP: Can they do - or what will they do?

INSKEEP: I'm deeply skeptical that the Congress is going to really be able to do much of anything at all.

INSKEEP: To use a sports metaphor, the Republicans are up by 30 points in the fourth quarter. I think they're keeping the ball...

INSKEEP: Too much partisan gridlock...

INSKEEP: ...and their hope to coast to a finish line, and perhaps regain control of both Houses.

INSKEEP: You know, unless they find the - you know, magic cure for the recession and unemployment. But with so little time left and the inclination not to want to alienate any voters, it doesn't make sense to act now.

CORNISH: The search is on for that magic cure for the economy. For instance, there are those Bush-era income tax cuts, due to expire at the end of this year. President Obama wants those cuts extended, but only for families earning up to $250,000.

House Minority Leader John Boehner says those cuts should also be extended for the 3 percent of Americans who earn more.

WERTHEIMER: If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them. But I've been making the point now, for months, that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans - if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America.

CORNISH: Boehner spoke yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation." And while those comments seemed to signal to some the potential for compromise, the Republican leader was outright dismissive of the president's plan for more spending.

President Obama has been calling on the Senate to pass a multibillion-dollar package of tax breaks and loans for small businesses that's been stalled for months; and another $50 billion in spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder what's new about more stimulus spending, more taxes and more uncertainty for American small businesses? That's what the president's proposing. And what's new about that?

CORNISH: But Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the GOP alternative proposal - to cut government spending to 2008 levels - will only make things worse.

WERTHEIMER: And if you, in effect, withdraw investment from the economy now, in an effort to - the Republicans say simply cut spending - it's going to go further down. And you are going to be in a downward spiral, because then revenues are going to go down, and you are going to be chasing your tail down a rat hole.

CORNISH: And there are many, many, many more bills still sitting on the table.

WERTHEIMER: The problem, the real challenge here, is the clock.

CORNISH: Sandra Eskin is with the Health Group at the PEW Charitable Trusts. She's backing a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration new authority over food production, including the power to force the recall of tainted food. It's stalled in the Senate, even with bipartisan support.

WERTHEIMER: Anybody with a bill that they'd like to have passed is fighting the clock more than anything else. There are very limited days left. I believe the accurate count is 14 legislative days - days on which the Senate will take a vote before they recess for the election period.

CORNISH: Also in the pipeline: spending bills to keep the lights on at government agencies, and a Defense bill that would end the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy for gays in the military. There's a treaty with Russia on arms control. And committees all over Capitol Hill have drafted legislation in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Big issues at any other time but now, competing to get on the radar in this short, pre-election stretch.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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