Congress returns for a few weeks

After a five week summer break, lawmakers in the Congress return to session on Monday with little chance of getting much substantive legislative work done in the next few weeks, before scampering back home to campaign for the November elections.

Instead of rushing to finish work on the budget for next year - which is supposed to be completed by September 30 - both Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate will start this pre-election session with votes on plans that may seem a tad more political in nature.

Senate Democrats will fire the first salvo as they try to start work on Monday on a constitutional amendment that would allow the Congress to regulate the amount of money spent on campaigns for Congress and President.

It seems unlikely that Democrats will get the 60 votes needed to begin debate - but they want to put Republicans on the record about it, and cast them as defenders of huge amounts of corporate money going into political campaigns.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans will bring up their own issue this week, holding a vote on a resolution "condemning and disapproving" how the Obama Administration traded five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

While the resolution will pass, it is a non-binding measure that's sure to be given the rhetorical back of the hand by most Democrats and the White House.

But since both parties are playing to their own choirs, the votes make perfect sense - they highlight an issue of importance to their voters and put the other party on the record about it.

But it doesn't really get things done, like say, the budget.

On Monday, the House will vote on a dozen bills that re-name post offices around the country.

Others might schedule some different priority items for votes in both the House and Senate.

Not much time on the floor

The schedule of Congress tells us a great deal about what lawmakers are truly focused on at this point in time - the November elections.

The House has only 12 legislative work days scheduled between now and the elections - four days this week, four days next week, and four days the week of September 29.

The Senate will work this week and next week as well, but Senators may try to leave town as early as September 24.

Two years ago, Congress rushed home for the elections on September 20, which was the earliest departure from D.C. for the campaign trail since 1960.

2014 may become the second earliest departure from D.C. since 1960.

The rush to get home to campaign means that many issues will get booted into what's become the norm in recent election years - a lame duck post-election session.

When was the last time that the Congress did not come back into session after a general election for a lame duck? That would be 1996, when Congress adjourned sine die on October 4, and did not return until January of 1997.

1996 was also the last year that lawmakers finished the budget bills on time, as in coming weeks, the House and Senate will have to approve a short-term budget to keep the government running, most likely into early December.

With so little time on Capitol Hill this month, it's not clear if the Congress will take any votes related to the use of U.S. military force against Islamic State forces inside Syria.

Several lawmakers in both parties were floating plans last week, but no action has been set either by Republicans in the House or Democrats in the Senate.

At this point, there seems to be no White House timeline for action on the Islamic State issue; President Obama is expected to give a speech Wednesday on the matter.

No Obama action on immigration reform

One thing that lawmakers evidently won't have to worry about dealing with before the elections is a move by President Obama on immigration.

Over the weekend, the White House let Democrats know that there would be no executive actions issued before November on immigration; some Democrats worried it would create a huge backlash, and possibly bring about big losses in the mid-term elections.

In an interview for NBC's "Meet the Press," the President said the political ruckus stirred up by a surge of unaccompanied children across the border had changed the political dynamic on immigration reform.

"The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer," the President said, leaving some Democrats relieved and others bitterly disappointed.

One could certainly feel that shift in recent weeks; Republicans blasted the delay, arguing whatever the President does, it is likely to be a constitutional overreach.

"President Obama's decision to delay administrative amnesty is simply a political move," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). "Whether it's now or later, though, it's the wrong move."