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Congress left with big agenda, little time to get it done

Members of Congress have through this Thursday to slog through their serious to-do list before they are slated to leave Washington for the rest of the year.

Lawmakers have yet to finalize funding to keep the government running, funding for the defense department and other national security priorities, tax bills that could have a significant impact on businesses and individuals when they file their 2014 returns, and more.

Congress' biggest priority is passing a spending bill to ensure the government doesn't shut down when approved spending runs out on Thursday night. Lawmakers are expected to pass a massive spending bill that would keep every government agency running for another fiscal year -- except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Republicans may want to keep DHS funding on a shorter funding leash as they continue to tussle with President Obama over the executive actions he's taking to defer the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress last week that the plan was "a very bad idea for homeland security." He added, "We've got some homeland security priorities that need to be funded now."

Along with their catch-all spending bill, Congress needs to finalize the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets guidelines for the Defense Department budget. The House has passed a version of the NDAA, but it could get held up in the Senate this week by disputes over amendments.

For instance, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and others may want to attach an amendment to the bill to formally approve the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Additionally, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, may try to attach an amendment to the NDAA to make more reforms within the military that address the issue of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, could stall the NDAA's passage over some public land provisions (authorizing new National Park units, for instance) that were bundled into the bill. Congress has passed the NDAA for 53 consecutive years, but in recent years its passage has come down to the wire.

Congress this week is also expected to renew the terrorism risk insurance program -- another "must-pass" measure related to national security. The program, established after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, requires insurers to offer terrorism risk coverage but ensures the federal government will help cover the losses from an attack if they exceed a certain amount. It's set to expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews it. Late last week, congressional negotiators came close to an agreement to renew the program for six years, while raising the threshold for government assistance from $100 million to $200 million.

The Senate also needs to approve the "tax extenders" -- a package of about five dozen tax deductions and credits -- that the House has already passed. The tax extenders package would retroactively renew tax rules that expired after 2013, including a deduction for higher education expenses, deductions for teachers who spend money on school supplies, a research and development tax credit, and a wind energy production credit.

Congress may also try to pass some funding requests from the Obama administration, which could be folded into their catch-all spending bill or approved separately -- or punted for the next Congress to worry about. Specifically, the administration has requested $6.2 billion to fight the Ebola virus and $5.6 billion to help fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after President Obama approved sending 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq. There's also a long-outstanding request from the administration for $3.7 billion to help handle the influx of Mexican and Central American children who were coming across the southern border earlier this year.

On top of everything, the Senate is still sitting on dozens of executive branch nominations, including some that Democrats may want to confirm before Republicans take over next year, such as Sarah Saldaña's nomination to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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