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Analysis: Congress Kicks The Can On Farm Bill, Postal Service, Tax Cuts

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Delays and more delays were the order of the week on tax cuts for small businesses, the farm bill, postal service overhauls and more. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, speaks with Matt McCleskey to explain the latest developments.

The Senate went home last night having rejected both Democratic and Republican plans for giving tax cuts to small businesses. What's the hold up?

"The stalemate there is that it is in neither party's interest to give the other guy a victory this close to the election. The Democrats did not want to be forced, at this point, to take a vote on President Obama's proposal, which was to leave the tax rates just the way they are except for people earning morethan $250,000 a year. That's because there is a split in the Democratic ranks, probably five or six Democrats want to vote against that because they would rather raise taxes against millionaires or even not at all, because they're in tough reelection races. And the Republicans didn't want to give Democrats a victory on the simple idea of giving a tax break to small businesses on their payrolls."

The House Agriculture Committee finally passed its Farm Bill this week, but it looks like it might not even make it to the floor before the election. Why is that?

"The bill faces a lot of deep divisions before the entire House. Democrats don't like that it would cut 2 percent from the Food Stamp program, and a lot of conservative Republicans don't like that the federal government has too much of a role in federal agriculture subsidies. So it's getting nibbled at at both ends of the ideological spectrum. Same thing happened with the Federal Highway Bill, which we talked about for much of the Summer. Opposition from the left and the right. The leadership decided that, rather than put it out there to be a partisan pinata, they decided to do what the Civics textbooks say not to do, and handed it to the negotiators even before the House has taken up the bill."

The House has put off debating the postal reform system. What does that mean for postal workers and people who use the post office?

"In the short term, it's good news for workers and people who use the post office, because a delay of this legislation means that no post offices are going to be closed, it means that Saturday delivery is going to continue, but it also means that the postal service is moving closer to its fiscal precipice. At the end of this coming month, the postal service owes $5.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury for overdue bills, to simplify things. And then they owe the same amount of money at the end of September, so they owe essentially $11 billion between now and the Fall, and they don't have a way to pay that money. So unless there is some sort of legislation, in theory, the postal service will default and they won't be able to deliver any mail. So they sort of have to come with at least a patch before the end of the year."

"The issue is politics. House members don't want to be seen right before the election as casting tough votes to end Saturday delivery or put in place a system for closing post offices. They'd just as soon put it off. So, as with so many things we've been talking about all year, it's all about the lame duck session. Congress will come back right after the election on Nov. 13, with a huge long list of things to do. They'll probably kick the can on some of them, and actually do a couple."

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