Taxes, budget and jobless benefits - Congress at the wire

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The lame-duck Congress returns on Monday to a daunting agenda of economic issues.

And lawmakers will try to accomplish in a few weeks what has eluded them all year.

Some deadlines, such as extending unemployment insurance and passing a federal budget, will hit this week. On other matters, such as the Bush tax cuts, lawmakers have until year's end.

Here's their To Do list:

Medicare payments to doctors: The House on Monday is set to take up a measure delaying a 23% cut in federal reimbursements to doctors by one month.

The Medicare payment reduction is scheduled to go into effect Wednesday if lawmakers don't act. Physicians have threatened to drop Medicare patients if their rates are slashed.

Bush tax cuts: On Tuesday, President Obama will meet with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to tackle the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Just about the only thing both parties agree on is preserving the tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families, which is estimated to cost $3 trillion over a decade. At issue is extending them permanently for the high-income earners, which adds $700 billion to the tab.

President Obama and many Democrats have said they want the tax cuts to expire on family income above $250,000. But the GOP contends that raising taxes now on anyone will imperil the still-fragile economy.

Unemployment benefits: It looks increasingly likely that hundreds of thousands of people will start running out of extended unemployment benefits this week.

Lawmakers are expected to let the Nov. 30 deadline to file for federal unemployment insurance pass without extending it. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the road for federal benefits, which last 73 weeks. Congress may take up the measure during December, either as stand-alone legislation or as part of a bigger bill.

The main sticking point is paying to maintain the safety net. The most recent six-month extension cost $34 billion.

Some 2 million people are expected to run out of federal benefits in December if lawmakers don't extend the deadline. Advocates want action taken before deficit-conscious Republicans take over the House in January.

Deficit commission: President Obama's fiscal commission is scheduled to issue a report on how to reduce the nation's long-term on Dec. 1. But it's unlikely the 18-member panel will get the votes required to make official recommendations to Congress.

Earlier this month, the commission's co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, issued their own recommendations, including spending cuts, tax reforms and other ways to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.

Fiscal 2011 budget: Lawmakers are already two months late in enacting the fiscal 2011 budget, though they passed a temporary spending plan that expires on Friday. If they don't act by then, the federal government will shut down.

Congress could finally pass a full-year budget, but that's a long shot. It's more likely that lawmakers will approve another so-called continuing resolution, which maintains funding for federal operations at 2010 levels. The big question is how long the Band-Aid will last.  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,982.59 22.02 0.13%
Nasdaq 4,444.91 -4.65 -0.10%
S&P 500 1,978.91 0.57 0.03%
Treasuries 2.49 0.02 0.89%
Data as of 8:46pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Apple Inc 99.02 1.99 2.05%
Facebook Inc 74.92 -0.06 -0.08%
Bank of America Corp... 15.50 -0.09 -0.58%
Dollar Tree Inc 54.87 -0.08 -0.15%
Family Dollar Stores... 75.74 15.08 24.86%
Data as of 4:03pm ET

Sections

Herbalife shares tumble after the maker of nutritional supplements reports earnings that fall short of analysts' estimates. More

New annual report from U.S. government shows the long-term prognosis for Medicare has improved thanks to slower health spending, while the outlook for Social Security remains unchanged. More

Online dating site OkCupid found its users were more likely to have conversations when it told them they were more compatible than in reality. More

Actor-founded This Bar Saves Lives had Hollywood connections, but learned Start-Up 101 the hard way. More

Steve Mason, a pastor from California, inherited more than $100,000 in student loan debt when his 27-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009. With interest and late penalties, the debt has since ballooned to $200,000. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.