Congress is facing another round of deadlines this week. As members approach their holiday break, a stopgap federal budget measure expires on Friday. Meanwhile, lawmakers are still working on a deal to extend a payroll tax break beyond the end of the year. David Hawkings, with the CQ Daily Briefing has the latest from Capitol Hill.
How close is Congress to reaching a deal?
"It does look as though, defying a lot of expectations including my own, the appropriators -- the people in Congress who decide how the money is spent -- are close to a deal maybe even by [Monday night] that will wrap up the spending decisions for the fiscal years, that actually began on Oct. 1. They're delayed, but do they seem to have it figured out -- how to avoid another one of these ticking clocks down to a government shutdown on Friday night."
Why has this process of deadlines and partisan bickering until the eleventh hour become the norm?
"It's become the norm because neither party has clearcut control of Washington. We live in an era of closely divided government. Obviously, the President is a Democrat, the Senate is narrowly Democratic -- with less than the 60 votes to dictate the terms, and the House is Republican. The simplest way for this era of grilock government to be broken would be for one party or the other to win a lopsided national election. Put their candidate in the White House, give their members at least 60 votes in the Senate, and a majority of the House... That doesn't seem to be at all what the public wants, so I dont expect to see that soon."
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear about a congressional redistricting case in Texas -- how high are the stakes there?
"They are very high, because, to simplify a very complicated matter, there are essentially two dueling Congressional maps for Texas. The Republican legislature have one map which favors an increase in Republican seats. And latinos, who had a majority of population gain in Texas -- so much that Texas gets 4 more seats -- have sued. Federal judges have agreed in part, and written their own map that would allow probably 4 Democrats get elected. How this turns out could decide as many as four new seats in the House."
If this is successful, would we see more of this tactic?
"This happens every ten years.It generally happens with ethnic groups that feel as though their ability to elect 'a candidate of their own choosing,' feel agreaved and they go to court and, yes, there are several of these that have yet to play themselves out."