House GOP scales back agenda, hoping to avert election-year trouble

House leaders are warning rank-and-file Republicans that the passage in December of the first comprehensive budget in years is unlikely to herald a return to even the once-routine task of passing all 12 of the spending bills that Congress is supposed to approve each year. And in a noted departure from previous end-of-session breaks, Republican leaders held no conference calls or large meetings in the long hiatus between adjourning on Dec. 13 and preparing to return on Tuesday.

“Things are slow for sure,” said one House Republican close to the party leadership.

Expectations for the session are so low that lawmakers say early action on White House priorities like raising the minimum wage, restoring unemployment benefits that expired and overhauling immigration laws are likely to go nowhere. Instead, Congress is likely to focus on more prosaic tasks: finishing negotiations on a farm bill that has languished for two years, agreeing on a law authorizing water projects, passing a spending bill for the current fiscal year and raising the debt ceiling by March. Only then might lawmakers move on to modest, piecemeal immigration measures.

The chances are “relatively low in terms of the probability that truly substantive legislation will be advanced through the House,” said Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia and a critic of Congress’s work pace.