STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Okay. It's not that Congress has done nothing the last few days, it's just that they've done things that may not become law. A Democratic-led Congress acted on everything from the war in Iraq to the country's subprime mortgage crisis. But much of that faces veto threats from President Bush.
NPR Congressional correspondent David Welna is covering the story. And David, was there anything that Democrats absolutely had to get done before heading home for the Thanksgiving recess?
DAVID WELNA: Well, Steve, both Democrats and Republicans had said today it was the deadline for fixing the scourge of the Alternative Minimum Tax, what's known as the AMT, which instead of hitting the wealthiest as it was intended to would instead hit some 21 million taxpayers next year.
Last week, the House did pass a bill that would spare most of those taxpayers, but Republicans blocked similar action in the Senate yesterday because they don't want an AMT fixed paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy. So the IRS plans to pin up some forms starting next week that as soon the AMT will indeed hit millions, and that could possibly the late tax refunds for millions of households next year.
Now, another thing that the White House and Defense Secretary Gates in particular say has to be done by today is the approval of emergency funds to keep fighting the war in Iraq. And that's because a $470 billion defense bill that President Bush did sign into law this week has no money in it for the war, even though the stop-gap funding for the war expires this weekend.
On Wednesday, the House approved $50 billion more in war funding but it also set a goal of having most troops out of Iraq by next December, which the White House says is unacceptable. The Senate is voting on that measure today, but the votes are just not there for to pass. Democrats say if President Bush doesn't want this money, the Pentagon will just have to dip into its radar budget for the next few months.
Here's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
HARRY REID: The president is no longer - never was entitled, but he's damn sure is not entitled now to having this money given to him just with a blank check. He just signed a bill, $470 billion for one year - $470 billion on the same day that he vetoed a bill that the American people need very badly. America needs someone fighting for him, taking on this bully we have in the White House.
WELNA: You see, I think those words give a sense of just how confrontational things have become there. Now, the vetoed bill Majority Leader Reid was talking about was one of that funded education programs, health research, labor. So Reid and other Democrats are now contrasting these domestic programs that the president vetoed with his willingness to spend hundreds of billions of dollars more on Iraq.
INSKEEP: Is Congress going to get beaten by the president on domestic spending bill after spending bill after spending bill?
WELNA: Well, the House did come within two votes last night of overriding that veto against the domestic setting last night. So it's clear a lot of Republicans are not too happy with the president's hard line, but there is in fact one spending bill besides the defense bill that would not get vetoed and that's the one that funds veterans' programs.
Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that Democrats send that bill to the president.
MITCH MCCONNELL: It has been ready for two months. We all know he will sign it. There is no good reason not to send the veterans bill down to the president for signature.
WELNA: Actually, there's a very good reason that bill is not being sent to the president and it's because Democrats want to roll it together with the whole stack of bills the president says he will veto. And then Senate offered him - this is a fight that's mainly over money and the fact that Democrats want to spend $22 billion more than the president does, but they're backing down a bit. They say they'd be willing to meet him halfway now at just $11 billion more to avert a government shutdown.
INSKEEP: David, we just got a few seconds left, but we mentioned the sub-prime mortgage crisis. What has Congress tried to do about that and what's happened?
WELNA: Well, yesterday, the House did approve legislation that clamps down on sub-prime mortgage lenders. But Republicans have blocked similar action in the Senate. But like everything else that the Democratic Congress has done lately, that action too, seems destined for a presidential veto.
INSKEEP: Sounds like a lot of difficulty between Democrats and Republicans.
WELNA: Yes. And I think that there's a sense that this is all headed towards some huge showdown when they get back from the Thanksgiving break. But for now, they are leaving town with a lot of business left on the table.
INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.
WELNA: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR Congressional correspondent, David Welna.
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