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Week ahead in Congress: Battles over spending, trade, and regulation

Congress returns Monday from its recess last week to resume debates on spending and trade, all while a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers from both chambers continues its work on addressing mounting U.S. debt.

The highest-profile item facing the House is set to hit the floor on Tuesday, when lawmakers in that chamber are scheduled to formally vote on an extension of government spending through mid-November. After a nearly-empty House agreed in a procedural vote last week to extend spending for a week, the GOP-held chamber will vote again on the deal negotiated late last month in the Senate to avert a shutdown and extend funding for disaster aid. While the package is expected to win bipartisan support, Republican leaders are mindful of the threat of losing votes from their own members, an occurrence which led to the initial failure of a similar spending measure last month.

Otherwise, the House is set to vote on a variety of bills to loosen regulations, particularly environmental and energy restrictions. Committees will examine the effects of the new Wall Street reform law, the Obama administration's immigration policies, and the prospects for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate will look this week at approving a series of President Obama's nominees to judgeships and administrative positions, but the biggest vote could come Monday evening, in a procedural vote on legislation to address Chinese currency manipulation, a bill with rare bipartisan support. That debate has political overtones for 2012, particularly in states with manufacturing sectors that have been hardest hit by the government of China's efforts to keep its currency undervalued. That debate also pairs with a larger debate over free trade initiatives lingering before the Senate.

On the committee level, senators will listen to testimony about how to reform the budgeting process and options for tax reform. A Thursday hearing on that latter topic, by the Senate Finance Committee, comes against the backdrop of continued negotiations by the so-called "supercommittee," the panel established by August's debt ceiling deal to find $1.5 trillion in new savings from the budget. Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, will be listening particularly intently at that hearing, since he's one of six Democrats who sits on that supercommittee. That group of lawmakers is additionally expected to increase the pace of its meetings, convening each day this week.