It’s a Make-or-Break Week for Congress

Carl Hulse NOVEMBER 17, 2014 NYT FD

President Obama at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla., in March 2012. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Good Monday morning from Washington, where the health secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, has embarked on an Affordable Care Act tour andPresident Obama has returned after a trip to Asia and Australia. As the week begins, we look to the Senate for a clue on how the rest of this session will go.

The post-election festivities are finished, and Mr. Obama is back in town. It’s time for the lame-duck Congress to get serious about what it will do – or won’t do.

The first real action comes tomorrow. That’s when the Senate will get the chance to send a bill expediting the Keystone XL pipeline to the president’s desk, or decide to leave the issue for the new Republican majority next year.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said Sunday on CNN that pipeline supporters remained one vote short of the 60 votes needed and were no doubt burning up the phone lines trying to find another ally. If it does pass, the White House is prepared to send it back in what could be the beginning of a veto cycle for the president.

The Senate faces another test on a bipartisan plan to impose new rules on the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program. It has the backing of a left-right coalition of progressive and libertarian-minded lawmakers. Advancing the bill would be an unexpected success.

Behind the scenes, there’s talk that Mr. Obama could by the end of the week issue anexecutive order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. That action would touch off a furious Republican backlash and could make it difficult to get much else done this year, particularly a long-term spending deal.

The biggest spending decisions will not come until after Thanksgiving, when theDec. 11 deadline for providing new government financing is imminent.