WASHINGTON — When Congress returns to Washington after the August recess, an unusually heavy workload greets lawmakers, dominated at first by the need to keep the nation’s fiscal house in order. Here’s what to watch for when the House and Senate get back to work this week:
■ Hurricane victims Emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey will be front and center. The White House has already submitted an initial $7.85 billion emergency funding request; the overall tab could eventually top $100 billion. This first tranche should pass quickly; the House has set a vote for Wednesday. One possible wrinkle: The Trump administration wants the hurricane aid tied to an increase in the federal debt limit, a move that House conservatives oppose.
■ Debt limit September wouldn’t be September in Washington without some spending fights before the fiscal year closes at the end of the month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked lawmakers to raise the government’s statutory borrowing authority by Sept. 29; look for House conservatives to demand that any debt-limit increase be paired with spending cuts. And lawmakers must pass a “continuing resolution” funding the federal government by Oct. 1 or risk a government shutdown — political suicide now that victims of Hurricane Harvey are depending on a functioning government for help.
■ Defense authorization bill Among the Senate’s first orders of business will be to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, a huge bill that sets defense policy and spending levels. Among the possible sticking points this year: a fight over whether transgender people who are already members of the military can continue to serve.
■ Tax overhaul Rewriting the tax code — and passing big tax cuts — are high on President Trump’s list of priorities, especially since Congress failed to deliver on its promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. To tackle taxes, lawmakers must first adopt a budget resolution, which will contain special parliamentary instructions required for the Senate to consider and pass a tax overhaul by a simple majority, as opposed to the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
■ Immigration Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to former president Obama’s program shielding young unauthorized immigrants — so-called “dreamers” — from deportation, while giving Congress six months to come up with a potential replacement for the popular initiative, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Members of Congress in both parties — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan — are pushing for some kind of legislative solution that would settle the legal status of the roughly 800,000 dreamers.
■ Children’s health care The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides coverage for nearly 9 million children in low- and moderate-income families at a cost of about $15 billion a year. But funding for the program is set to expire Sept. 30, and Congress must renew it. That renewal could provide a vehicle for legislation to help stabilize the individual insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, which have grown shaky as insurers have pulled out and premiums have risen.
■ Flood insurance In case anyone needed a reminder that insurance is necessary for those who live in flood plains, Hurricane Harvey provided it. But authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program, soon to be inundated with claims from Harvey’s victims, is set to expire at the end of the month. The flood insurance program was created in 1968, after most private insurance companies stopped writing homeowners’ flood coverage, and it is now run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Look for debate between conservatives, who want to scale back government costs for the program, and lawmakers in flood-prone states, who want to keep it affordable.