WASHINGTON - Lawmakers returned to Washington on Monday after a two-week Easter recess, and the goal of Republicans and Democrats controlling the House and Senate remains the same: Do no political harm, or at least do nothing to cause serious shifts in the political winds that could upset the status quo before Election Day.
It's less than 200 days until Nov. 4, when Republicans are expected to expand their majority in the House. Democrats are fighting to maintain their narrow majority in the Senate.
Congress will convene for about 60 days in the next six months as all members of the House and 36 senators continue campaigning. In the next five weeks, the House will meet for just 15 days with a weeklong Mother's Day break in between. The Senate plans to work four consecutive weeks before spending a week at home for Memorial Day.
During that time, talks will continue on raising the minimum wage, repealing or changing the Affordable Care Act, overhauling the nation's tax code, and writing dozens of spending bills to fund the government in the next fiscal year.
Lawmakers in both parties want to enact tougher sanctions against Russia, which continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine.
Then there's immigration reform. It isn't expected to be a topic of debate in the House in the next few weeks despite widespread public support and some recent favorable comments by GOP leaders.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the fourth-ranking House Republican as leader of the GOP messaging operation, said in an interview over the weekend that she believes a deal on immigration could be struck before the election. "I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August," she told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Her comments came just days after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) openly mocked his Republican colleagues for their unwillingness to tackle immigration reform this year.
But Boehner aides dismissed his comments as lighthearted teasing, and when the speaker delivered the Republican radio address Saturday, he touted House-passed jobs bills and made no mention of immigration.
The House instead this week will debate and pass a series of measures designed to curb human trafficking - a pet concern of conservative lawmakers and their supporters. Then the House will begin the process of passing the spending bills needed to fund the federal government during the 2015 fiscal year.
This is the earliest start of the annual appropriations process in the House since 1974, according to the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.).