Congress returns to Washington on Monday with the same rapid-fire agenda it left in August, but now facing the more immediate task of deciding if the United States should launch a military strike on Syria.
The first floor action could come as early as Monday in the Senate, setting up a vote Wednesday in the chamber on a resolution authorizing the “limited and specified use” of U.S. armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days and barring American ground troops from combat. A final vote in the 100-member chamber is expected at week’s end. A House vote is likely the week of Sept. 16, now that President Obama has asked Congress to back his decision to launch a military strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he believed ordered an Aug. 21 chemical weapon attack that killed nearly 1,500 of his own people. A resolution to use military force has the best chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate but appears to face a much greater challenge in the Republican-controlled House, despite the backing of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
A vote count Friday by The Washington Post found 223 House members in the “no” or “leaning no” category, which is more than the 217 that would be needed to sink the resolution. After Syria, Congress’s most immediate tasks will likely be passing a temporary spending bill to prevent much of the government from shutting down on Oct. 1, which is the start of the new budget year, and raising the debt ceiling before the government runs out of money to pay its bills by as early as mid-October. Cantor told conference members Friday to expect a “robust” debate on Syria in the next couple of weeks and said the chamber will move on the debt ceiling before the middle of next month. “Upon return to Washington, if we stay focused on our solutions and how they can benefit all Americans dealing with their every day challenges, I am convinced we will achieve more significant policy victories in the months ahead,” Cantor wrote. The stopgap spending measure would buy time to work out how to fund government programs over the next 12 months, but even its passage is in doubt.
Republicans are considering whether to use the measure as a last-ditch assault on Obama’s expansion of federally-subsidized medical care, known as ObamaCare, and a new requirement that millions of people without health insurance either buy it or pay penalties to the Internal Revenue Service. GOP leaders are eager to avoid an impasse and government shutdown. They had signaled earlier that they prefer a straightforward temporary spending bill that would keep agencies running at current budget levels, reflecting the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts — known as sequester and in place for the past six months.