ON Capitol Hill, non-election years normally provide the greatest opportunity for legislative accomplishments, but 2013 doesn't look to be favoring the norm.
With 2014 being another election year for all members of the House and a third of the Senate, things only look to get more complicated, and there are a limited number of working days ahead.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) has said the 113th Congress should not be judged by the number of laws it passed but by the number of laws it repealed. Only 31 bills have reached the President's desk so far this year, and many of those were insignificant in the grand scheme of major challenges facing the nation.
The farm bill floundered this summer over a political divide in the House. When the House returns Sept. 9, Republicans have said the bill will come up early in the remaining session.
Boehner said he'll name farm bill conferees once the farm bill is voted on, regardless of the outcome. House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who has been blamed for tanking the farm bill earlier this summer, retracted some of those promises, calling into question whether he will only allow for a conference if a nutrition bill is passed.
The "farm-only" farm bill got the necessary Republican votes in the House, so we'll see if the leaders can get their caucus in line to do the same with the nutrition bill, which proposes $40 billion in cuts over 10 years. If not, will they still allow conferencing to commence since even Senate Republicans know $40 billion in nutrition cuts is nowhere near realistic?
A likely more pressing issue for the nine days the House is in session during September will be the budget situation. The President has not received one of the 12 appropriations bills required before funding stops Sept. 30.
Given the serious differences on spending levels between the House and Senate, there may be no chance that they will pass a real budget before fiscal 2014 starts.
Instead, they'll be forced to pass a continuing resolution (again), and the status quo will continue — likely at post-sequestration levels — instead of more closely examining where funds would best be spent.
The treasury department told Congress last week that the federal government will hit its borrowing limit by mid-October, setting up an ideological and fiscal fight about the debt ceiling during the September work period. The anticipated deadline is earlier than previously estimated, although it's impossible to predict, to the day, when the government will run out of money.
A showdown between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Obama Administration would be just one of many in recent years on the budget issue, which has become one of the most volatile and symbolic fiscal debates in Washington.
President Barack Obama has indicated that he is no longer willing to tie the debt issue to any other decision-making, including overall spending levels.
With the debt ceiling legislation being one of the potentially few left to pass in 2013, some reports point to trying to include a renewable fuel standard rewrite there.
Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for Cantor, told "Oil Price Information Service" that Cantor "listed a number of options to fix (the renewable fuel standard), and one option was, if we came up with a good bipartisan reform agreement out of the energy and commerce committee, then maybe we could try attaching it to a must-pass bill like the debt ceiling."