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Congress's summer 'to do' list not too taxing. What tops it?

The Senate will approve some agency nominations – and perhaps avoid a showdown over Obama's judicial nominees. Student loans need attention. A 'sequester' revise? Don't count on it before Congress recesses in August.

By Staff writer / July 8, 2013

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray delivers his organization's semi-annual report to Congress at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 23.

Jason Reed/Reuters/File

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Washington

Congress’s meager ambitions for the rest of July amount to locking in the Summer of Sequester – and not much else.  

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With both chambers reconvening Monday for three weeks of congressional action before the month-long August recess, the largest potential accomplishment during that time appears to be compromise on how to set interest rates on federal student loans. 

That’s followed by the Senate approving President Obama's nominees to head several major government agencies, amid an imminent showdown over his judicial nominees. In the House, success would look something like limping into August having determined how to handle two issues that already swept through the Senate with massive bipartisan majorities: immigration and the farm bill.

The student loan debate is up first because it involves an actual deadline – but even that may not be enough to move Congress to act.

Back in May, the House GOP passed a permanent fix to student loan rates that mirrored Mr. Obama’s own proposal. Senate Democrats balked, however, at the House offer and at a bipartisan bill in the Senate because, they say, pegging future student loan rates to the government’s cost of borrowing will almost certainly raise rates for student borrowers in the long term.

In the absence of any resolution, interest rates on the most heavily subsidized student loans doubled to 6.8 percent on July 1, putting the onus on lawmakers to fix the situation before the bulk of loans are disbursed in July and early August.

Republicans hope to force Democrats to negotiate on a long-term fix. Democrats want to extend the low interest rate of 3.4 percent for one year – and to tackle student loans in the context of the fall’s negotiations over reauthorizing higher education legislation.

More certain, however, is Senate ability to confirm new heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy) and the Department of Labor (Tom Perez). Republican senators have objections to both nominees, but both Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Perez are expected to take up their positions before the month is out.

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