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Congress has so much to do before Christmas

It is the most productive time of year on Capitol Hill – after the election and before Republicans take over the House of Representatives – when the current Congress tries to cram some of its most vital work into a few short weeks.

The US government is up against some hard deadlines, a narrow timeline and a whole lot of unfinished business.

Lawmakers need to avert  authorize Pentagon policy, decide what to do with former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and wrap up the work of the House January 6, 2021, committee.

If they can find the time, lawmakers could also raise the debt ceiling and safeguard future elections.

Here’s what to watch for in the twilight of 2022.

First, the government runs out of authority to spend money on Friday, December 16. The House and Senate will have to act before then to avert a government shutdown.

Second, the newly elected Congress will be sworn in on January 3. Republicans will then be in charge of the House, and Democrats will have a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate. Everything resets in the new Congress, and lawmakers will have to start from scratch on anything they don’t finish up this month.

Rather than pass a dozen funding bills in turn, lawmakers are poised to roll all the spending bills for the massive federal government into one bill that could approach or exceed $1.5 trillion.

The problem is that they’re still negotiating, and Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have not reached an agreement on how much the government can spend, much less the specifics. They’re still $26 billion apart, according to Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. The most likely current scenario is the House and Senate each pass short-term, one-week funding bills to keep the lights on while they continue to hash out the larger funding bill.

While officials have emphasized a government shutdown is unlikely, federal agencies have been warned to prepare for one per standard procedure.

One major looming question is whether Senate Republicans and Democrats can agree on a bill to fund the government for a full year or whether they have to punt to the next Congress. Democrats will want to avoid that fate since the GOP-controlled House will likely insist on spending cuts as soon as it can. that includes reporting from Capitol Hill and the White House.

It’s not yet clear who will lead Republicans in the House next year, much less how they would react to an immediate funding fight if only a short-term spending bill can get through by January.

The current GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, of many of the most conservative Freedom Caucus Republicans, and he’s being encouraged to take more concrete stands against spending. Finding a funding agreement that can pass through the House and the Senate and get President Joe Biden’s signature gets much more difficult starting January 3.

In addition to writing checks, Congress authorizes government activity through policy bills, including the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $858 billion in annual defense spending.

It’s a sprawling endeavor, and this year’s version passed by the House gives members of the military a 4.6% pay raise, gives new support to Ukraine and NATO, and retools US air power and land defense efforts. It also rescinds a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for service members, a move that Biden has opposed.

Senators are expected to take up the bill this week. It should get bipartisan support, but will also eat up valuable time on the Senate floor, where Democrats also want to push through judicial nominees.

One thing Democrats would like to do – but probably, at this point, cannot – is raise the debt ceiling.

Republicans, particularly in the House, plan to use the nation’s borrowing limit as a bargaining chip to force spending cuts next year. The current debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion will likely.

Republicans will shut down the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection when they take control in January. GOP lawmakers plan to flip the script and investigate the committee’s activity.

But first, the committee, which features Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans, will issue its much-anticipated report on December 21. Also look for the committee to

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