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Congress Calendar Topped by Syria Crowds Out Immigration

September 9, 2013

If Congress doesn’t pass immigration legislation this year, it becomes more difficult in 2014 as lawmakers focus on their re-election campaigns.

Michael C. Bender

A new U.S. immigration law at one time looked like the main thing Congress could get done this year. Syria is crippling its chances.

The debates over U.S. military involvement in Syria and federal government spending are crowding an already-packed congressional calendar, leaving little time or energy for revising the nation’s immigration laws, changing the tax code, passing a voting rights bill or stabilizing a money-losing U.S. Postal Service. Congress returns today from a five-week break.

"Everything else is on the back burner," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team.

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican working on an immigration policy revision, said there was a 5 percent chance an immigration bill would pass by year’s end. He said he was optimistic because in previous years the chances were zero.

If Congress doesn’t pass immigration legislation this year, it becomes more difficult in 2014 as lawmakers focus on their re-election campaigns, Diaz-Balart said.

"Running out of time is a real issue," Diaz-Balart, a House Appropriations Committee member, said in an interview. "Nothing is impossible but it gets a heck of a lot more difficult if we don’t get it done this year."

Time is short, even for the must-do fiscal items and the Syria vote. Lawmakers have three weeks until the government shuts down without a spending plan and less than two months to raise the debt limit or risk a U.S. default.

Vote Planned

First up is Syria, with a vote in the Senate planned this week. The House will consider legislation this week to extend current spending levels for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Days when both chambers are working in the next two months are limited. The House, scheduled to work just 10 weeks for the rest of year, has a five-day break starting Sept. 23. The Senate is in session until an Oct. 14-18 break.

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