Congress’ year-end to-do list

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

(Updated: Dec. 16, 7:00 p.m.)

As lawmakers headed into the last few weeks before the holiday recess, they still faced three major to-do items on their agenda. Track the progress they’ve made on the 2012 Defense Authorization bill, a 2012 omnibus spending bill and an extension of the payroll tax cut.

$662 billion defense authorization bill


The bill authorizes spending for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. The spending level is $27 billion less than the President requested and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon for fiscal 2011.

It includes a 1.6 percent pay raise, increases to TRICARE premiums and a cap on contractor executive pay.

WHAT’S NEXT? Both the House and Senate have passed the bill, and it moves to the President for his signature. Despite a veto threat earlier this week, the White House has since indicated it will sign the bill.

$1 trillion spending bill

The current short-term spending bill expires Dec. 17 at midnight. So far this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, Congress has passed only three of the 12 appropriations bills, funding some of the non-defense functions of government. Lawmakers crafted a catch-all bill — called an omnibus; for the remaining nine spending bills.

WHAT’S NEXT? The House approved the $1 trillion spending bill Friday afternoon, with the Senate expected to do the same over the weekend.

Payroll tax cut extension

Both parties agree on extending the payroll tax cut that expires Jan. 1. However, Republicans and Democrats disagree on how to pay for those cuts. The House passed a bill that froze federal pay for another year and changed the annuity formula from a high-three to a high-five to pay for the tax cut extension. President Obama said he would veto any measure that contained only spending cuts and increased taxes on millionaires.

The stalemate on how to proceed with the tax cut extension stalled passage of the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill as well.

WHAT’S NEXT? Congressional leaders said they would find a bipartisan way to extend the tax cut. It’s unclear if the federal pay freeze and changes to retirement are included in the bipartisan version.