Congress Returns to Washington With Big Agenda, Few Expectations

WASHINGTON — Congress returns this week with embattled Democrats torn between trying to show they have the economic answers and fearing the further wrath of voters over new government programs.

It appears the fears will win out.

The inbox is overflowing as lawmakers end their summer recess and undertake four weeks of writing and trying to pass bills before leaving town ahead of the Nov. 2 election: Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at year’s end; annual spending bills await action; and President Barack Obama has just come out with a new plan to stimulate the economy through tax credits, breaks for business investment and public works projects.

But progress on any of those before the election is doubtful.

Majority Democrats are returning to Washington after a month of listening to voters angry over government spending. Republicans are dead-set against White House initiatives.

“It will be difficult to get a very broad agenda through,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Some issues probably will fall back into a lame-duck session after the election. Even then, Republicans won’t be raring to cooperate, particularly if they regain control of the House or Senate.

Democrats insist they’ll act before the end of the year to extend the middle-class tax cuts pushed through by President George W. Bush. And if Congress does nothing? Then a family in the $50,000-$75,000 income range would face an extra $1,126 in taxes next year.

Obama and most Democrats want the extensions to apply only to individuals with annual incomes of less than $200,000, or joint filers earning less than $250,000. Continuing those tax cuts would add $3.1 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. The debt would rise by an additional $700 billion if tax cuts for the richest people are also extended.

But some Democrats say that with the economy in bad shape, the time’s not right to end tax breaks for the wealthy. Republicans, headed by House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio, are demanding a two-year freeze on all tax rates.

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