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Congress is back, but lawmakers' attention is on Nov. 2 election

WASHINGTON — Congress will use its few remaining weeks in session before the Nov. 2 elections to debate and vote on issues that are less about legislating than they are about positioning for the elections.

On the agenda next week are possible votes on revamping the nation's immigration laws — pushed by Senate Democrats eager to win Hispanic votes in key states — as well as a Republican-engineered effort to block or at least slow the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay service members. However, the immigration law's not likely to be enacted, and the GOP blockade's not likely to prevail.

Both parties also want a pre-election vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year. The White House and Democratic leaders want to extend only middle-class cuts. They want higher, pre-Bush rates to be reinstated on the wealthy, but 31 moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives are joining Republicans in resisting that.

Democratic leaders want a vote on the middle-class plan so they can paint Republicans as partners of the rich. Republicans are eager to vote on the tax question too: They want to paint Democrats as tax raisers, even during an economic slump. Whether either side will win — or instead Congress will put off the final vote until after the elections — isn't yet clear.

Here's what's clear: "There isn't going to be a legislative process in the next three or four weeks," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who's retiring.

Fast facts

Alaska's Murkowski plans write-in bid

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who lost her state's Republican primary on Aug. 24 to tea party-backed conservative Joe Miller, will run as a write-in candidate in the general election, campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski said Friday. Wackowski acknowledged the steep odds, but said "if there's anyplace it can be done, it's Alaska." Since the primary, Murkowski has called the Tea Party Express "an outside extremist group," saying it had "hijacked" the Alaska Republican Party. But in the weeks since the primary, Miller has been endorsed by top Senate Republican leaders in Washington.

"Open mind:" Christine O'Donnell, the "tea party" Republican Senate nominee from Delaware, is urging voters to keep an open mind despite what she described as the "rather unflattering portrait" of her in the media. In her first post-primary debate Thursday night against Democratic nominee Chris Coons, O'Donnell said she has matured since making controversial statements in favor of "sexual purity" and against masturbation in a 1996 MTV documentary. O'Donnell and Coons are battling for the Senate seat previously held by Vice President Joe Biden.

Times wires

Congress is back, but lawmakers' attention is on Nov. 2 election 09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 11:19pm]
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