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Analysis: Dog of year in Congress whimpers to end

By DAVID ESPO

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ Barring uncharacteristically swift work by Congress, more than a million victims of the recession will lose long-term unemployment benefits over the holidays, the price of milk could shoot up in late winter and government payments might fall sharply for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

There's more a¿¿ much more a¿¿ as lawmakers grasp the tail end of a dog of a year.

Federal payments to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will begin shrinking, at least temporarily, on Jan. 1. Tax breaks will expire temporarily for millions of people in states without an income tax, and also for the relatively few Americans who own racehorses.

They are routine deadlines gone unmet in a year more likely to be remembered for a tea party-inspired partial government shutdown, the stalling of President Barack Obama's agenda, repeated failed Republican attempts to eviscerate the health care law and a successful move by Senate Democrats to limit opposition to White House judicial nominees.

The blame game transcends all.

Republicans have "made good faith, serious efforts to Senate Democrats" to resolve differences on year-end issues, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently. "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.

A much-ballyhooed year-end stab at bipartisanship is designed chiefly to ease the impact of across-the-board spending cuts that resulted from an earlier episode of gridlock.

Even a compromise probably would face strong opposition from tea party-aligned conservatives in the House whose tactics have opened a deep divide within the GOP.

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