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      Congress returns after holiday break

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Fresh off a five-week vacation, lawmakers return to Washington Monday for a brief pre-election session in which Congress will do what it often does best: punt its problems to the future.

      There's a slew of deadlines and the prospect of a debilitating "fiscal cliff" in January.

      But lawmakers are expected to take a pass on the big issues of taxes and spending cuts and instead focus on doing the bare minimum - preventing a government shutdown when the budget year ends on Sept. 30.

      At issue is a six-month temporary spending bill to finance the day-to-day operations of the federal government.