With conservatives in retreat, it does look like we’ll get a six-month stopgap spending bill that will put off any budget hostage-taking until next March, when the character of Congress may change dramatically because of the elections. Politico advances the ball on that story today. Apparently, House Republicans figured out that they have to stand for re-election too, and a government shutdown on the eve of those elections would be bad for business. So they relented on the level of spending, keeping it at the levels mandated by the spending cap in the debt limit deal. They’ll try to fight another day.

Congress also wants to make a deal on a couple other outstanding bill packages before their expiration dates. One is a “tax extenders” bill, mainly a set of special interest tax breaks, for everything from alternative energy to research and development, mostly for business but including some worthwhile measures. Conservatives on the House side are divided on which provisions to extend, which threatens the whole deal, which is balanced so that individual members of Congress can point to something to vote for in the package. The R&D tax credit might survive, but perhaps little else. Congress can fix these kinds of tax breaks retroactively, and often do, so the next Congress could take them up. But it would add a degree of disruption to the industries affected.

Meanwhile, on the farm bill, which expires on September 30, momentum is swinging toward a one-year stopgap, provided that the parties enter into a conference committee on a longer bill after that. Collin Peterson, the Democratic ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, found that compromise acceptable.

“That seems to be gaining some ground on the Republican side right now,” Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told POLITICO. “That I would drop my opposition as long as this got us into conference on the big bill.”

“I’m against doing an extension but it’s OK if it gets us to a point of being able to conference a bill in August.”

Under the scenario mapped out by Peterson, the House could next week pass a one-year extension together with drought relief for livestock producers — giving Republicans some protection for their members before going home for the August recess.
The Senate would substitute its five-year farm bill, adopted in June, and ask for a conference.

Peterson might need some assurances that John Boehner will appoint conferees and actually work on a resolution instead of just putting it off until next year. This was how the transportation bill got done, with a short-term extension leading to a conference committee. Senate Republicans from farm states are anxious for action and have pressured Boehner to come up with a solution before the deadline. At the same time, a one-year extension would continue the practice of direct payments to farmers, something almost everyone with a vested interest in this bill in Washington no longer wants to see. So getting an extension across the line could be difficult. The House Republican leadership stopped their farm bill from progressing, fearing a floor fight with conservatives who reject the cost, and exposure by Democrats of the significant cuts to the food stamp program.

It’s occasionally hard to follow the twists and turns of Congress while still keeping your head attached to your torso. But things are wrapping up for the year with less rancor than anticipated.