WASHINGTON -- Almost nine months after Congress defied its reputation for dithering with a quick response to the Sept. 11 attacks, stalemate is back -- with a vengeance.
BYLINE4: Major bills affecting energy policy, trade agreements, managed health care, bankruptcy law and anti-terrorism insurance have stalled short of the legislative finish line, with no certainty that a polarized Congress can break the logjams as the November elections near.
BYLINE5: As lawmakers return this week from a weeklong recess, the result may be a season of legislative Kabuki theater: a performance that is long on political gestures and short on producing major laws in a Congress narrowly divided between the two parties.
BYLINE6: So, for example, Democrats who run the Senate plan action on a bill to crack down on hate crimes, even though the measure is expected to die in the Republican-controlled House. For their part, House GOP leaders plan to push for more tax cuts, despite bleak prospects in the Senate.
BYLINE7: And while leaders of both parties say they want to create a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare recipients, few on Capitol Hill think they will bridge differences on key details and produce a law this year.
BYLINE8: It's a far cry from the post-Sept. 11 days of whirlwind legislating, when with uncharacteristic dispatch lawmakers passed major bills to fund military operations in Afghanistan, giving the government new tools to combat terrorism and tighten airport security. That experience with a resolute Congress may mean voters are less tolerant of the gridlock expected to hamper the rest of this session.
BYLINE9: There is still plenty of time to finish major bills before Congress adjourns, probably in October; lawmakers often wait until the end of a session to strike their deals. But the key question is whether they have the political will to compromise on health, energy and other pending issues -- or whether they want to take their differences to the voters.
BYLINE:: "Most of these (disputes) are a combination of deeply held views and politics, which reinforce each other to push both sides away from an agreement," said Barbara Sinclair, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. "I wouldn't expect this to be a session in which we talk about a lot of landmark legislation."
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