Congress to confront a thorny agenda
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WASHINGTON -- Congress returns to Washington this week to confront some of the most substantive and politically nettlesome issues lawmakers will face between now and the November election.
Unless Congress acts, the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans will jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, raising the cost of college for millions of students.
On the same day, without congressional intervention, a short-term measure funding the nation's highway and bridge-building program will also expire, forcing construction workers off the job.
Lawmakers will have two short weeks to set aside partisan rhetoric and maneuvers on both issues and find compromises -- or face consequences of their inaction that could affect both parties with a major election just four months away.
And in the midst of those two debates will come a ruling from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care law. Whatever the court decides, the ruling probably will spike the partisan tensions, making deals on other issues even more difficult to achieve.
A conference committee of senators and House members has been negotiating for weeks to come up with a compromise over a $109 billion two-year highway funding bill.
The talks continued last week, even as the House was out of town on a one-week recess. With the House's return today, negotiations will restart in earnest.
On the student-loan issue, the public's verdict is likely to be especially harsh if Congress failed to reach agreement since leaders in both parties have repeatedly said they agree on the fundamentals but have been unable to agree how to pay for the nearly $6 billion price tag.
First Published June 18, 2012 12:00 am