Syria, Budget and Debt Top Congressional Agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Congress returns to work facing a momentous vote on whether the United States should attack Syria, a question that overshadows a crowded and contentious agenda of budget fights, health care, farm policy and possible limits on the government’s surveillance of millions of Americans.

Back Monday after a five-week break, many lawmakers stand as a major obstacle to President Barack Obama’s promised strikes against Syria amid fears of U.S. involvement in an extended Mideast war and public fatigue after more than a decade of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the first showdown Senate vote is likely over a resolution authorizing the “limited and specified use” of U.S. armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days and barring American ground troops from combat. A final vote in the 100-member chamber is expected at week’s end.

“I think we’re going to get 60 votes. It’s a work in progress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday.

A House vote is likely the week of Sept. 16.

Even before Syria, Congress faced a busy and difficult Fall packed with battles.

Then there are efforts by conservatives to cut off money for Obama’s health care law, with open enrollment for health insurance exchanges beginning Oct. 1.

After Syria, Congress’s most immediate task is passing a temporary spending bill to prevent much of the government from shutting down on the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year.

The stopgap measure would buy time to work out funding government programs over the next 12 months, but even its passage is in doubt.