- Associated Press - Thursday, August 6, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Drained and divided, the Senate is joining the House in summer recess as Congress sets course for an autumn of showdowns over Iran, spending and Planned Parenthood.

Senators left town Wednesday, a week after the House began a break that won’t end for either chamber until after Labor Day. When they return, they’ll face a fall jam-packed with do-or-die deadlines, including a September abbreviated by the Jewish holidays to just 10 days when both chambers are simultaneously in session.

Lawmakers are already looking ahead to Sept. 24, when Pope Francis will deliver the first-ever papal address to Congress. His presence may be the only calming influence on lawmakers next month, though his expected message of nurturing the poor, preserving the environment and opposing abortion has sensitive touchstones that could make both parties squirm.

“There will be no further roll call votes this week,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told a mostly empty Senate on Wednesday afternoon, triggering lawmakers’ exodus.

As the chamber’s legislative gas tank sputtered toward empty, it approved the nominations of the next members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed ambassadors to Norway and the Kyrgyz Republic and anointed Sept. 25 as National Lobster Day.

When they return, the presidential campaigns will be on full boil. Five senators currently running for their parties’ presidential nominations will be seeking public attention and could complicate the lives of Senate leaders looking to line up support for votes.

Topping the fall agenda will be whether to approve President Barack Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran. McConnell has said he wants senators to spend that days-long debate planted in their seats - an unusual step underscoring the issue’s gravity.

Lawmakers are required to vote by Sept. 17. Opposition is almost solid from Republicans arguing that the U.S. gave away too much and from many Democrats sympathetic to Israel, which considers the pact a disaster. It’s nearly certain that the GOP-controlled Congress will reject the deal, and that Obama will veto that bill.

That means the main suspense is whether Obama can corral enough Democratic support to sustain his veto and keep the agreement alive. Wavering lawmakers are sure to be lobbied by both sides over August.

Obama’s multi-nation agreement would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran mothballing its ambitions to build a nuclear weapon for at least a decade.

Before leaving Wednesday, the Senate stalled on a cybersecurity bill that lawmakers will probably revisit in the fall. But that measure pales, compared to their other tasks.

Federal agencies’ budgets expire Oct. 1, so Congress will likely pass legislation keeping the doors open for several weeks while leaders negotiate an overall spending package.

Failure to do that would mean a federal shutdown, which GOP leaders want to avoid because the public faulted them the last time it happened. Two years ago, government offices closed for 16 days after conservatives insisted on using the deadline to try forcing Obama to roll back his health care law - a confrontation Republicans lost.

This year, conservatives are expressing revulsion over secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing shipments of fetal tissue to researchers.

Many of them are promising to oppose any spending bill that doesn’t cut the roughly $500 million in government funds Planned Parenthood gets annually, so top Republicans will have to figure out how to get the spending bills through Congress. The resulting compromises with Obama are likely to roil core GOP voters.

More brinksmanship is likely by late October. A short-term highway bill expires Oct. 29, and the government’s legal authority to borrow money runs out around Oct. 30. Both are considered must-pass.


Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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