Factbox: Congress in final session of 2010

(BestGrowthStock) – If the U.S. Congress embraces the tax-cut extension deal crafted by President Barack Obama and opposition Republicans, it likely will open the way for a series of other bills to be debated in the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

Here are the major bills Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives hope to pass this month, before their power is eroded next year as Republicans take majority control of the House and gain seats in the Senate:

BUSH-ERA TAX CUTS

Extending tax cuts that are set to expire on December 31 is the top priority of Obama and Congress. Senate Republicans have said they wouldn’t allow other bills to advance until the tax controversy is resolved.

Key elements of the deal outlined by Obama: The extension of reduced tax rates for all income groups for two years, continuing breaks on dividends and capital gains, a 2 percent employee payroll tax cut, breaks on the federal estate tax.

Liberal Democrats might not support it, even with an extension of unemployment benefits included as a sweetener.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING

The House is likely to vote this week on a bill to fund government operations through September 30, 2011, which is the end of the fiscal year.

With an anticipated price of roughly $1.1 trillion, it would be billions of dollars below the Obama administration’s request. But it would fund some new initiatives important to Obama, including new regulations on the financial industry.

Some important details still need to be resolved, but Congress hopes to finish the spending bill by December 18, when stop-gap funding runs out.

If the massive funding bill sputters, Congress might just pass another temporary spending bill — maybe one that keeps the government running until February or so. That would give Republicans a greater chance to enact the deep spending cuts they have promised, as they will control the House of Representatives and wield greater clout in the Senate.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to look at ways to control government spending. But the tax-cut package negotiated by Obama and Republicans would add massively to short-term deficits.

FEDERAL RESERVE NOMINEE

Democrats are trying to win Senate confirmation of Peter Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board. Republicans have been blocking the the Nobel prize-winning economist, saying he lacks experience. They’re demanding a full-blown debate on Diamond on the Senate floor that could take more time than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to spend on one nomination.

CHINA CURRENCY

Some senators are pushing for a vote on a bill to impose new U.S. duties on imports from countries with fundamentally undervalued currencies. The legislation, akin to one passed by the House, is mainly aimed at China. But the bill looks set to languish during the lame-duck session as trade has lower priority than domestic issues such as tax cuts and unemployment benefits, congressional aides said.

START RATIFICATION

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he thinks ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty could be accomplished this year. The treaty with Russia would result in a modest cut in both countries’ nuclear arsenals. Even with a deal on tax legislation, it’s not clear whether Republicans will allow a vote on New START.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

Measures that some legislators want to debate during the “lame-duck” session, some of which face tough odds, include:

— Ending the the U.S. “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows gays to serve in the military only as long as they keep their sexual preferences private;

— Repealing a provision of the new healthcare law requiring companies to issue “1099” tax forms to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a year. Small businesses say the provision will create a paperwork nightmare.

— What to do with foreign terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama wants top suspects including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001, tried in a civilian court while Republicans are demanding they face military trials.

— Stricter controls on offshore oil drilling and steps to encourage cleaner alternative fuels;

— A $17 billion “doc fix” so that doctors participating in the government’s Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled do not suffer steep pay cuts starting next year.

— Providing a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16. “The Dream Act” would provide legal residency to those who graduate from high school, complete two years of college or military service and have no criminal record. The bill is being championed by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, but Republicans are likely to block it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro, Donna Smith and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Factbox: Congress in final session of 2010