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Rolling into August in Montana usually brings reminders of just how short and sweet our summers are. While the days are hot, the nights usually begin to cool down in the first signs that a change of seasons is not far off.

In the political arena, August signals the so-called “dog days” when little or nothing of much significance gets done. But like the return to school for kids, there will come a return to the major issues of the day at summer’s end – and in that regard, there’s a full plate of challenges ahead.

For the nation, the seeming inability of the current Congress to accomplish necessary policy and budgetary progress was only reinforced when lawmakers left Washington for their five-week summer vacations. The host of pending issues is daunting, indeed, and touches all our lives.

The running battle between Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate has in no way diminished. The Republicans are still trying to repeal Obamacare, despite the fact that any such repeal – even if they could get the votes to pass it — would have to escape the inevitable veto of the president for whom the eponymous health law is known.

Toss in the re-authorization and budget battles for about a dozen major programs including highway and transit funding, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Federal Aviation Administration, child nutrition standards, and pipeline safety standards among them. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters late last week: “We're going to discuss how to fund the government after the August recess.”

Then there’s the inescapable battle looming over any future funding for Planned Parenthood since the release of highly contentious videos of staff members discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions. Lines are definitely being drawn in the sand, with major Republican lawmakers vowing to cut off the millions of federal dollars now flowing to the organization.

In the meantime, despite the billions of dollars and thousands of bombs being dropped on the Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, recent reports say ISIS forces are as strong now as when the air and ground campaigns against them began. Complicating the issue is Turkey’s decision to take advantage of the attacks on ISIS to launch their own attacks on Kurdish fighters who, like the Turks, are allied with the U.S. against ISIS.

In the same realm of the Middle East morass, Congress will come back to deal with President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal which, once again, pits congressional Republican majorities against the Democratic president and Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Closer to home, Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock is embroiled in a battle with the federal government over how to best keep greater sage grouse from being placed on the endangered species list in a court-ordered decision by September’s end. Bullock and his Wyoming counterpart are both hoping their state-based recovery plans will pass federal muster. But in truth, they want it all – more oil, gas and coal development along with the associated roads and utilities, continued grazing and basically a slightly modified version of the status quo that has brought the sage grouse to its current plight and is not likely to lead to recovery of the iconic native birds.

Speaking of dog days, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continues to be dogged by her use of a private email server during her stint as Secretary of State. New reports say classified information that should never have left secure government computers was found on Clinton’s server, although disagreement exists on whether it was classified at the time Clinton received the emails.

Further dogging Clinton’s presidential aspirations is the surging campaign of Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, who set new records for the presidential contenders by drawing over 100,000 people to nationwide organizing rallies last Thursday. Bolstering that impressive showing was a recent CNN poll that put Sanders over Republican presidential aspirants Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in a theoretical matchup. Toss in Donald Trump’s recent threats to run as a self-funded Independent and things get a lot more interesting in the “who will be the next president” department.

But for now, we get to enjoy August in Montana. There are plenty of huge political issues waiting for Fall, but if you do want to dog someone about politics, don’t hesitate to contact U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, since they’ll also be around Montana enjoying the entire month of August in the Rockies.

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George Ochenski's column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. Contact him at oped@missoulian.com.

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