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5 Days Left: Congress races against deadlines as doc cuts, price spikes loom

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Dec. 5, 2013: House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill.AP

Payments to doctors, the price of milk, long-term jobless benefits and more are all on the line this week as lawmakers scramble to beat several end-of-year deadlines -- and all by Friday. 

Though Dec. 31 is still a few weeks away, congressional sources say the House plans to adjourn at the end of this week. With the Senate returning from its latest recess on Monday, that leaves just five days when both chambers are in session. 

The chance for resolving any or all of these issues is unclear. After a year in which little was accomplished even by congressional standards, the deadlines are piling up. Lawmakers are also facing a Jan. 15 deadline to pass a budget or risk another partial government shutdown, though congressional negotiators reportedly are closing in on a possible deal. On top of that, several lawmakers, and President Obama, are rearranging their schedules to attend memorial services this coming week for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. 

Ahead of a very busy week, congressional leaders got to work trading blame for the lack of progress to date. 

Republicans have "made good faith, serious efforts to Senate Democrats" to resolve differences on year-end issues, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "When will they learn to say `yes' to common ground?" 

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, attacked Republicans for opposing an increase in the minimum wage, voting to cut $40 billion out of food stamps, and seeking reductions in school money and college aid for low-income families. 

"I mean, how unconscionable can that be?" she asked at a meeting scripted to build support for extending unemployment benefits. 

Negotiators continue to work on all fronts behind the scenes. 

Long-term unemployment aid, a prickly issue on the Hill, is expected to expire on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million workers who've been without a job for longer than six months. 

President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to appeal to Congress to extend it. "Extending unemployment insurance isn't just the right thing to do for our families -- it's the smart thing to do for our economy," he said. 

But despite threats by some Democrats to hold up the must-pass budget bill over their demand for extending jobless benefits, a top Democrat signaled Sunday that his party might not block the budget bill over the issue. 

"I don't think we've reached that point where we've said this is it, take it or leave it," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said on ABC's "This Week." 

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the long-term benefits -- which typically kick in after 26 weeks -- are actually doing a "disservice to these workers" by making them less marketable to would-be employers. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaking on the same program as Durbin, said the issue should be dealt with separately, outside the budget talks. 

Both Portman and Durbin, though, voiced optimism that lawmakers might reach some kind of agreement on the budget by the end of the week. 

That's just one big challenge in the week ahead. 

Lawmakers are also at work drafting a three-month measure to prevent a 24 percent drop in Medicare payments to doctors. The cost is estimated at about $8 billion. 

And lawmakers are trying to work out at least a short-term deal over the farm bill -- an issue that could end up affecting the price of milk. 

The bill itself is meant to set spending levels for farm programs and food stamps. A House measure that passed on a party-line vote calls for food stamp cuts totaling $40 billion over a decade. A Senate version, passed with bipartisan support, envisions reductions of $4 billion. 

But failure to resolve the broader issues would also return the nation to a Depression-era dairy law and set in motion a chain of events that would potentially quadruple the price of a gallon of milk. 

Meanwhile, there has been virtually no public discussion about the dozens of tax provisions due to expire at year's end. 

Some originally were placed into law only temporarily to mask their true impact on the deficit. Now, they are renewed periodically, and temporarily, because the cost of permanent extensions could be prohibitive. 

Among the more obscure is a provision that allocates to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the proceeds of a $13.25-per-gallon federal excise tax on imported rum. Without action by Congress, the amount to be turned over would fall to $10.50 per gallon. Other items allow racehorse owners to write off their investments relatively quickly, and permit residents in nine states that have no income tax to claim a federal deduction for the state sales tax they pay. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.