Members of Congress are headed back to Washington, D.C., from a holiday break, but how much they will accomplish before leaving in early August for full-time campaigning remains very much in question.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to return next Tuesday, with the Senate reconvening Jan. 23. The annual State of the Union address by President Barack Obama, the traditional start of the Congressional season, is scheduled for Jan. 24.
Conventional wisdom that little legislating happens during an election year is bolstered in 2012 by memories of a rough 2011, during which political differences took the country to the brink of a government shutdown three times.
The year ended with a standoff between House Republicans and the Senate and President over an extension of an existing payroll tax holiday. That extension was approved two days before Christmas, but it only lasts two months.
A longer-term payroll holiday package is likely to be one of a few priorities tackled effectively in the new Congressional session. Other must-dos include a 2013 fiscal year budget, which will probably involve a continuing resolution of the FY2012 budget, and debate over whether or not to allow $1.2 trillion in sequestration budget cuts to go into effect early next year.
Of course, the 2008 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has said her Committee will begin hearings on the farm bill rewrite early in the year, with the goal of having an "initial product" by spring. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has not been as direct about his plans, but it's likely all efforts will run into the same tense negotiating environment that existed in 2011.
Other wheat grower priorities on the horizon for 2012 include resolution of duplicative pesticide permitting requirements addressed in H.R. 872; continued congressional oversight of the MF Global bankruptcy and loss of $1.2 billion of customer funds; and work on the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.