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Other items on the Congressional to-do list

Eye Opener

The Federal Eye is back from vacation -- and so is Congress. Lawmakers are set to tackle several big issues in the coming weeks before packing up and going home for reelection campaigns. Though tax cuts and a small business aid package top the to-do list, several issues impacting government operations and federal workers are worth keeping an Eye on, according to conversations with several Congressional aides:

1.) Budget bills: Congress is nowhere near ready to pass dozens of appropriations bills that fund federal agencies, so expect continuing resolutions to keep the lights on until at least later this year.

2.) Defense authorization bill: It's the spending bill most likely to advance, but several complicating issues could stall the Senate's passage and prolong a final House-Senate compromise. One big unknown: How will the bill address the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy? The House version repeals the policy, but the Senate hasn't voted. Senators will likely wait until the Obama administration decides how to respond to last week's ruling by a federal judge that the policy is unconstitutional.

3.) The future of the Postal Service: Two things to watch -- and neither involves ending Saturday mail delivery or closing post offices -- two no-go options in an election year. Expect Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) to introduce a postal reform bill that addresses a long-simmering dispute between USPS and the Office of Personnel Management regarding overpayments -- by as much as $75 billion -- to the old Civil Service Retirement System. The bill might help close the Postal Service's estimated 10-year, $280 billion budget gap. Also -- for the second year in a row, lawmakers are likely to address the $5.5 billion in prepayments that USPS must make to its retiree health benefits by allowing it to pay less than required.

4.) Cybersecurity: Two competing bills from the Senate Commerce and Homeland Security committees are expected to merge into one bill that combines business and military/security concerns. Passage before the midterms is unlikely and more likely during a lame duck session, but it's a top priority of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), according to Senate aides. Watch what the bill says about how the government could intervene in the private sector amid imminent cybersecurity concerns.

5.) Telework: House aides believe there's a good chance that a bill giving federal workers the option of working remotely could pass this year. The Obama administration considers telework an attractive recruiting tool and other supporters think it's a critical tool for continuity of government in the event of terrorist attacks or natural disasters. But will Republicans and vulnerable Democrats approve a bill that gives federal workers another big job perk and feeds the stereotype that they're lazy and underworked?

6.) Will Obama nominees get an up or down vote?: Watch how quickly the Senate moves to confirm Jack Lew, President Obama's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday. Obama also must decide soon on a several nominees for new financial regulatory positions. Meanwhile, hundreds of other Executive Branch picks are still waiting for confirmation votes and Obama has had fewer judges confirmed than Richard Nixon. Some picks may get a vote towards before the Senate goes home, but don't hold your breath. (Track Obama's nominees with The Post's Head Count.)

Are we missing any big issues? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Cabinet and Staff News: President Obama says no to solar panels on the White House and disagrees with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Mexico. New Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee makes his Sunday morning TV debut. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush appear together at 9/11 event in Shanksville, Pa. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the middle of the Chicago mayoral pack. White House Adviser David Axelrod says health-care reform will grow more popular. Patricia Geoghegan replaces Kenneth Feinberg as pay czar. CIA Director Leon Panetta's 9/11 message to employees. Federal Judge Virginia A. Phillips -- who ruled "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional -- profiled. Foreign Service Officer R. Smith Simpson dies at age 103.

Afghan war hero to receive Medal of Honor: Salvatore Giunta, 22, will become the first living recipient of the medal who has served in any war since Vietnam.

Pentagon faces new questions after judge's 'don't ask' ruling: It is still unclear whether the U.S. government would seek to suspend the injunction pending an appeal of the judge's ruling.

Defense cuts may slow area economy: Several in the industry said the downturn could be as severe as it was in the early 1990s, when, among other things, the Navy largely pulled out of Crystal City.

FAA proposal seeks more rest for pilots: A proposal announced Friday would require pilots to rest for nine hours before reporting for duty.

FCC move to release White Spaces has tech firms dreaming of wireless boom: High-tech firms and engineers are dreaming that the agency's move to release "white spaces," or unused television channels, later this month will unleash another boom of mobile innovation.

Woman's links to Mexican drug cartel a saga of corruption on U.S. side of border: Martha Garnica devised secret codes, passed stacks of cash through car windows and sketched out a map for smugglers to safely haul drugs and undocumented workers across the border.

Crack-coke sentence disparity persists: Defense lawyers and other critics of the tougher crack sentences say they subject mostly blacks to long prison terms while those caught with powder cocaine get far more lenient treatment.

NASA contractors get help finding new jobs: Texas-based federal contractors who lose their jobs as NASA's space shuttle program is retired will receive assistance from the Obama administration in finding new work.

TSA warns you to report photographers: A controversial poster designed to encourage passers-by to report suspicious people, including photographers, is making photo fans furious.

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By Ed O'Keefe  |  September 13, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congress , Eye Opener  
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