After recess, Congress has its hands full

Obama and legislative leaders say they have had to prioritize complicated policies this year so, as Obama put it, they "don't all just crash at the same time." As the health care debate drags on, it will continue to eat up time for those other priorities. Other legislation getting squeezed this year includes:

• Immigration, which re-emerged as a top issue during the 2008 election, will have to wait until next year, Obama has said. "Politically and legislatively," he said during a speech last month in Mexico, "the matter stands behind health care."

• Spending bills, which are supposed to be done by Sept. 30, are lagging. The Senate has finished four of 12, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told The Hill newspaper that more time will be needed. That will force Congress to pass a stopgap budget to keep the government running.

• Unless Congress acts this year, the estate tax, paid by people who inherit property and money, will expire in 2010 and then return in 2011 at higher rates. The tax falls under the purview of the Senate Finance Committee, which is engaged in health care legislation.

"There are always priorities you tackle and some that you don't," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who said health care and the economy will take precedence over everything else. "This is so important that everything else pales in relation."

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