Members of Congress head back to Capitol Hill this week after a long summer recess, and the focus is expected to be on jobs. President Obama is addressing a joint session of Congress to outline his jobs plan Thursday. CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing Editor David Hawkings talked with WAMU Morning Edition Host Matt McCleskey about what to expect on the Hill this week.
In addition to the focus on jobs, there are some routine bits of business that Congress will tend to early this week. The first vote is expected for Tuesday evening, as the Senate tries to break a filibuster agains their version of a patent overhaul bill. The bill would simplify and modernize the patent system, but Hawkings says it's unlikely that GOP Senators will let the bill go through.
Later in the week, the president's speech Thursday isn't expected to draw the bipartisanship that his State of the Union speech in January did. During that event, Republicans and Democrats symbolically joined each other on opposite sides of the aisle to signify a willingness to work together.
Thursday will likely bring a lot more partisanship, says Hawkings. "Sadly, in my 24 years of paying attention to Congress, I've never seen it this bad," he says. "They seem to be at each other's throats on even the most minor of things." Case in point: the fight over the timing of President Obama's speech, which was scheduled for Wednesday, until House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ind.) asked the president to move it to Thursday.
"Summer vacation has not eased the acrimony," Hawkings says.
Obama could have opted to give the jobs speech from the White House or another location, but he's likely trying to be seen as "a higher power, a more powerful force," than Congress, Hawkings says. "He's trying to say, 'I can compromise, I know how to find middle ground, now you all need to as well.' The best place for him to show that visually is in that podium."
One item on Congress' agenda for this fall that observers don't expect to cause too much strife is the federal budget; there have been no threats of a government shutdown like the one that came down to the wire earlier this year. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Congress will have to implement a FY 2012 budget, or a continuing resolution extending the existing budget, by that date.
"There's not been talk of either side holding this budget hostage," Hawkings says. "In fact, Republicans seem to be willing to spend a little more than they were originally willing to, so that should ease things a litte bit."
One small sticking point could be differing opinions on how to pay for disaster relief from the recent Hurricane Irene; Democrats and the President don't believe those funds should have to be offset with other cuts, while some Republicans are arguing that they do need to be made up for elsewhere.