The Washington Punch List

With the economy front and center, we're keeping a close eye on Congress and Obama. Stay tuned for updates on what they get done – and what gets punted.

whats ahead
Fiscal 2011 budget

For the third time in a month, Congress on Dec. 21 passed a temporary spending bill to fund the government. This one will expire on March 4. The votes were partisan. Upshot: Lawmakers have 10 weeks to fight like cats and dogs over current-year spending.

Debt ceiling

Treasury will hit the cap on borrowing sometime in the first half of 2011. So Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling. But not without pushback from Tea Party infused lawmakers.

Tax reform

Obama, after reaching a tax deal with Republicans, said tax reform must be debated in 2011. The goal is to make the tax system more efficient. Translation: Raise more revenue without necessarily raising rates. It will take an "adult conversation."

Small biz paperwork

Congress imposed new paperwork requirements on businesses last spring to help pay for health care reform. Republicans say the rule stifles small firms and want it rolled back, a move Obama now says he'd support. Bipartisan attempts to repeal it have so far failed.

2012 budget

President Obama promised he would deliver serious deficit reduction proposals in his fiscal 2012 budget. That process typically begins in February. Don't miss it.

Health care reform

Republicans on Capitol Hill are taking aim at this signature Obama measure. Repeal is unlikely since the president can veto it. But GOP lawmakers will make trouble.

Wall Street rules

Obama won sweeping change of financial rules. Republican House members are promising tight oversight of the regulators who are implementing the law.

Consumer financial protection chief

The creation of a consumer bureau was a 2010 Obama highlight. The banks weren't thrilled. The president still hasn't named a director for the Senate to confirm. Expect a fight when he does.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The mortgage agencies, taken over in 2008, are still in limbo. Republicans want to privatize them. Treasury is expected to offer a more measured plan early next year. There will be shouting.

done dead
Bush Obama tax cuts

President Obama on Dec. 17 signed into law an $858 billion tax cut and stimulus bill - 11 days after he announced the controversial deal with Republicans. It includes a two-year extension of all Bush tax cuts, help for the jobless, a one-year payroll tax holiday and other tax measures.

Unemployment benefits

Millions of jobless started losing emergency benefits in late November as lawmakers were unable to pass an extension. But the tax cut deal Obama signed on Dec. 17 passed a 13-month extension that will cost $57 billion.

Alternative minimum tax

The "wealth tax" would have hit the 2010 tax returns of more than 20 million Americans if lawmakers hadn’t acted. But a 2010-2011 fix was part of the bill Obama signed on Dec. 17.

Extending tax breaks

A number of popular tax breaks – for businesses and individuals – were extended by the Dec. 17 tax cut law.

Estate tax

The Dec. 17 tax cut law includes a lower estate tax, which would have returned in 2011 with a $1 million exemption level and a top rate of 55%. Now the estate tax has a $5 million exemption and 35% rate.

Medicare payments to doctors

A few weeks after passing a one-month reprieve from big cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, Congress approved a bill to stave off a 25% reduction in 2011. The 10-year cost of $19.3 billion was paid for with changes to health care reform.

Obama debt commission

Defying expectations, a plan to cut $4 trillion in debt by 2020 won 11 votes from the 18-member commission. That wasn’t enough to make formal recommendations to Congress. But the panel put out model proposals Obama and lawmakers can tap.

$250 checks for seniors

House, led mostly by Republicans, defeated $14 billon bill that would have sent $250 to Social Security recipients to make up for another year without cost-of-living adjustments. This looks to be going nowhere.


Lawmakers rail against this much-maligned form of spending. Senate Republicans on Nov. 16 agreed to a nonbinding moratorium. In the House, the GOP on Nov. 18 voted for a full ban. Few expect either to make a dent in wasteful spending.

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