US Congress Returns, Facing Major Decisions

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Congress returns this week after a month-long recess, facing major decisions on a host of economic and money-related issues.

Lawmakers left Washington after a contentious summer debate over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, which eventually was approved.

Now they face equally thorny questions about how to cut more government spending, and at the same time boost job growth. The U.S. did not add any new jobs last month and 14 million American workers are unemployed.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is set to present his plan for adding more jobs to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. He is likely to call for tax breaks for employers who hire more workers, increased spending to help repair aging schools and crumbling roads and extended financial assistance for the long-time unemployed.

But opposition Republicans say they are opposed to more government spending, and instead favor elimination of government regulations they say have inhibited job growth.

With the country’s economic downturn, polls show that Mr. Obama’s approval rating among voters has dipped sharply, especially for his handling of the economy. But Americans say they hold Congress in even less esteem.

Against that backdrop, a group of 12 lawmakers — half Democrats and half Republicans — is faced with coming to agreement on another $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, a part of the summertime effort to increase the borrowing limit. If the lawmakers cannot reach agreement, automatic cuts will be made in spending for defense and non-defense programs, possibly including health care for senior citizens.

Congress also must enact spending plans for individual government agencies before the new government fiscal year starts October 1, or pass legislation to continue their operations at current spending levels.

Numerous states along the country’s eastern seaboard are also seeking government aid to recover from the widespread damage caused recently by Hurricane Irene, with some Republicans calling for cuts in other programs to pay for the hurricane relief. The country’s postal system also faces major funding problems, with some calling for the end to postal deliveries on Saturdays.

Congress also could vote before the end of the year on U.S. trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, as well as on a measure approving “permanent normal trade relations” with Russia.