Why You Should Pay Attention to the Election This Week

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Associated Press + More

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — If you pay attention to election 2012 at all this summer, make it this week.

Decisions out of Washington are sure to have an impact on the major issues driving the presidential and congressional elections: Jobs. How much is in your wallet. Health insurance, immigration, campaign finance and more.

Lawmakers face deadlines on legislation determining the interest rate students pay for loans, overhaul of the federal transportation program, and money for the system that provides insurance for homes and businesses in flood-risk areas. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is rendering judgment Thursday on the health care overhaul law, President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.

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"I saw some story about (how) this is the week that could make or break Barack Obama. I don't buy it," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health committee, who personally invested considerable time into passage of the health care law. "It's an important week, sure."

In opinion polls, voters put the economy at the top of their list of concerns along with unemployment, which stands at 8.2 percent. They worry about federal spending at a time of record-breaking deficits, how to pay for their health care, and immigration policy. And in interview after interview, respondents say they are extremely concerned about their personal finances.

These are the substantive issues the presidential and congressional candidates are certain to focus on in the fall as they battle for the presidency, congressional majorities and the loyalties of persuadable voters. There are plenty of those — a quarter of registered voters have yet to commit to Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll this month. The ranks of the undecided will shrink before Election Day, but this group could make the difference in a close presidential race and in congressional contests.

Republicans need a net four seats to seize control of the Senate from the Democrats. In the House, Democrats need a net of 25 seats to oust the GOP majority.

The action in Washington also affects key constituencies both parties are trying to woo, including Hispanics, women, seniors and small businesses.

In the near term, lawmakers want to complete the outstanding legislation and avoid having to explain to constituents over the weeklong July 4th break why Congress failed to protect jobs in the transportation industry, students with loans and homes threatened by flooding.

"We have lots to do and a very short time to do it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday from the Senate floor.

By June 30, the House and Senate must pass a highway spending bill — or extend current law — that negotiators say would save or create more than 2 million jobs. Other congressional bargainers are working fast to head off a July 1 doubling of interest rates on federal loans to 7.4 million college students. The government's flood insurance program expires at the end of July if not renewed, and a Senate vote is expected this week.

Across the street, the Supreme Court handed down a mixed decision on immigration Monday, tossing out major parts of Arizona's tough crackdown on illegal immigrations while unanimously approving the requirement that police check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. The court also upheld unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns.

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Though the economy remains the No. 1 worry for voters, the health care ruling could have the biggest near-term political impact. Both parties have big strategic guns at the ready.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Obama health care law, it would mean validation for the president and the Democrats in Congress who muscled the legislation to passage in 2010, when they controlled both houses of Congress. But the overhaul mobilized small-government advocates and was a big force behind the GOP takeover of the House that year. So if the law is upheld, Republicans have a clear case to make for strengthening their numbers and their power to overturn all or parts of it.