Editorial: Little time and a lot to get done for Congress

By The Herald Editorial Board

With kids and Congress heading back to their work, there’s confidence that at least the kids will get something accomplished by the end of the year.

Returning this week from recess, representatives and senators have until the end of September to pass a spending bill — once again under the threat of a potential government shutdown — before taking another recess prior to the Nov. 8 general election.

Even counting a lame-duck session following the election, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to complete work on a substantial list of issues, especially when one side or the other has something to gain from procrastination. Among the most important issues:

Spending: Congress must pass a spending bill by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, to avoid a shutdown. As they have in the past, it’s likely the House and Senate will approve a continuing resolution — Latin for “kicking the can down the road” — to keep the government open for business while a package is negotiated.

But disagreement is likely in how long of a punt is needed. Democrats and at least some Republicans want a short kick just past the election, so the spending plan can be passed before the end of the year. More conservative Republicans, including the House Freedom Caucus, are pushing to extend the budget into March to allow the next Congress and a new president to cut a deal.

That might be a gamble for Republicans, particularly with the potential for the GOP to lose the Senate as well as the White House in November, coaxing them to lift their objections to negotiations before the end of the year.

Zika: Regarding the Zika virus, the Senate, in May, passed a deal negotiated by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, that would have provided $1.1 billion to fund vaccine research on the virus, which causes birth defects, as well as efforts to control mosquitoes that carry the virus. House Republicans responded with their own $1.1 billion plan, but gummed it up with restrictions against birth control (the disease can be spread by sexual contact), spending cut offsets and an easing of rules against spraying pesticides near water sources.

We’re already seeing the damage that can be done when pesticides aren’t used with care when attempting to control Zika; more than 3 million honeybees were killed earlier this month in South Carolina when a county in that state used aerial spraying and didn’t allow beekeepers to make adequate preparations before the spraying.

The House should adopt the Senate’s bill, which provides the spending that has been delayed and threatens to further limit work on a vaccine and responsible mosquito-control work.

TPP: The window is closing on a trade bill that is crucial to the economy of Washington state and the nation. President Obama, now returning from the G20 Summit in China, will seek ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. Both parties’ presidential candidates are opposed, myopically, to the trade deal, making approval necessary before the end of the year.

Refusal to ratify the TPP will create a vacuum that China, which isn’t a part of the trade deal, can exploit, allowing it to negotiate its own pacts with the other countries, most certainly with less stringent protections for workers, the environment, copyright and other concerns that have been included in the TPP.

Supreme Court: The refusal of Republicans to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, will again leave the court with a 4-4 ideological split as it begins hearing cases in October.

Waiting to seat a justice in the hopes of avoiding a Democratic president’s nominee ignores history and simple fairness. Six other justices have been confirmed in presidential election years, and every other nominee who wasn’t withdrawn from consideration received a vote within 125 days of nomination; Garland has been waiting 174 days.

As with spending, however, Republicans risk losing some pull with the issue and could start budging depending on the results of the election.

Available working days in September, November and December don’t leave a lot of time to get any of the above done.

At least we can count on the kids to produce something worthy of hanging on the fridge before the end of the year.

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