Congress back for lame duck rush

After being in session only four weeks since August 1, it's no surprise that as the Congress returns from a Thanksgiving break, there is little chance of wrapping up work on a slew of major legislative items, as much of the work may simply be booted into the New Year.

"This is no way to do business," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) just before lawmakers jumped on planes to go home for Thanksgiving.

But the late rush in the month of December has pretty much become standard operating procedure in recent years - no matter which party is in charge of the Congress.

Among the major legislative items that need attention in the final few weeks of the 113th Congress:

+ Spending bills - As usual, lawmakers are behind on their budget work, which was supposed to have been finished by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Instead, for the 18th straight year, the Congress has not been able to complete the dozen budget bills that fund the operations of the federal government.

+ Omnibus or CR? - It's a pretty good bet that a full "omnibus" appropriations plan - consisting of all 12 spending bills - is on a hard drive on someone's computer in the Capitol right now, just waiting to be rushed through the Congress. But the aftermath of the elections, and the fallout over the President's immigration actions may spur the Congress to approve a short term funding plan into early next year.

+ Tax Extenders - Lawmakers have known for over a year that they needed to act on a package of expired tax breaks, known as the tax extenders. The plans were not renewed at the end of 2013, and an effort to forge a deal last week ran into a veto threat from President Obama. Both parties have been renewing the tax breaks, which cover everything from research and development to the ability of people to write off state sales taxes on the federal tax returns. The cost of the latest plan is estimated at some $450 billion over ten years, which would just be added to the federal deficit - sure to be denounced as a Christmas Tree piece of legislation.

+ Defense policy - Once again this year, Democrats have held back on bringing a defense authorization bill to the Senate floor, and now it's not clear if the measure will be acted on this year. The House passed its version of the bill in June. Like the Omnibus, it's likely that both parties have already tentatively worked out a final version of the bill in hopes of speeding it to approval in the next two weeks. In 2013, Congress waited until December 21 to give the plan final approval.

+ Use of military force - One of the many issues that some Senators would like to discuss in debate on the defense bill is an authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State; it's one of severals reasons that bill did not see the light of day in the Senate before the elections, in an effort to tamp down on amendments which might cause some trouble for Democrats and the White House. Another subject that would prove nettlesome is on sactions against Iran. Those are two reasons Democrats want to hold the bill to the end to stop any possible roadblocks.

+ Immigration - In the wake of President Obama's executive actions on immigration, some Republicans would like to force a budget showdown by next week, in a bid to block the feds from using money to enforce the President's plans. The current stop-gap budget runs out on December 11, and some GOP lawmakers say that gives them leverage to force Mr. Obama to back off his plans to allow up to five million people - who are here illegally - to stay in the United States. But many Republicans would like to hold that issue over into the New Year, when the GOP will control both the House and Senate.

The current schedule calls for the House and Senate to be in session this week and next - until around December 11 or 12.

The House actually has a five day work week scheduled next week.

The Senate has yet to hold any votes on a Friday in 2014.

Stay tuned for what should be an interesting next few weeks.