Boehner sets low expectations for tackling Congress' to-do list

6:14 AM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
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(CBSNews.com) - Faced with a daunting to-do list to tackle before Congress adjourns for the year, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday set limited expectations for what lawmakers can accomplish in the next two weeks.

"I'm not seeing any real progress on the farm bill," Boehner said, adding that Congress might have to pass a one-month extension of the legislation if it can't reach a longer-term agreement. "I think all of it ought to be extended for a month."

Congress has been trying for months to replace the now-expired farm bill, a traditionally bipartisan piece of legislation that renews agricultural assistance as well as the food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Lawmakers have been hung up over cuts to food stamps -- the House GOP has put forward a plan that would cut nearly $40 billion from the program, while legislation from the Democratic-led Senate cuts $4 billion. In October, President Obama said passing a farm bill was one of his top three priorities for the year.

Boehner said that the House wouldn't delay its Dec. 13 adjournment for the farm bill or anything else. "The House is going to leave next Friday," he said. "I mean what I say, and I say what I mean."

Meanwhile, emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed are slated to expire at the end of the year. If Congress doesn't extend the program, which would cost about $25 billion for another year, about 1.3 million unemployed Americans will immediately lose benefits next year. House Democrats on Thursday attempted to bring more attention to the matter with a hearing on the impact of the program's expiration.

"If every member of Congress would take even a few minutes to speak personally with unemployed workers, there would not be any question at all about the need to extend the federal emergency unemployment program," Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said at the hearing.

The White House is also pressing the issue. Its Council of Economic Advisers and the Labor Department released a report Thursday showing that if the benefits expire, 3.6 million people will lose assistance by the end of 2014.

Boehner said Thursday that, "If the president has a plan for extending unemployment benefits, I'd surely entertain taking a look at it." However, he added that the "real focus" ought to be on "creating more jobs for the American people... not more government programs."

While the whole Congress considers these issues, a team of negotiators led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are attempting to hash out a budget agreement. When Congress in October finally ended the two-week government shutdown, it did so with a bill that keeps the government open until Jan. 15 and that extends the nation's borrowing authority through the first week of February. In other words, Congress could find itself on the verge of another economic crisis early next year.

Boehner said he was "hopeful" Ryan and Murray can come to an agreement but said "clearly" no agreement exists at this point.

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