WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Congress returns to work Monday with a politically driven agenda in an election year that will determine control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
President Barack Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and a three-month extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed are first up in Senate, with votes scheduled Monday night. The benefits would affect an estimated 1.3 million Americans.
The payments stopped on Dec. 28. The issue is vital to the Democratic Party's core voters who are crucial in midterm elections like the one later this year.
"Dealing with declining middle-class incomes and not enough job growth will be the No. 1 issue," said Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Critical to economic stability is a smooth transition to a new chairman of the Federal Reserve. The Senate is expected to confirm Yellen to the powerful post, making her the first woman to head the Fed. She would replace Ben Bernanke on Feb. 1.
Republicans also intend to focus on every facet of Obama's health care law, sensing a political boost in its troubled launch as the party looks to maintain its House majority and seize control of the Democratic-led Senate.
First up in the House, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantoris legislation addressing the security of personal data, part of his party's effort "to protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare."
Republicans also promise closer scrutiny of the administration's count of enrollment numbers in the program, which is meant to provide health insurance coverage to millions of Americans.
Lawmakers also face a Jan. 15 deadline to agree on a spending bill to keep the government running and avoid a partial shutdown that disrupted Congress last fall.
A short-term measure is likely this month just to let the government continue operating.
Several other contentious issues loom.
Twenty-six senators have signed on to a new Iran sanctions bill that Obama opposes while his administration negotiates with the Iranian government over its nuclear program. The legislation would impose sanctions if the talks falter, with a full Senate vote possible this month.
Also likely is a vote on legislation to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers. Military leaders and several powerful senators oppose the proposal.
Unclear is whether the House will tackle major legislation to overhaul immigration laws. Some House Republicans still resist any legislation, fearing it would lead to a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.