The Lame Duck Season

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Despite losing control of the House of Representatives and suffering a greatly diminished majority in the Senate, Democrats still momentarily hold on to the levers of power and are poised to complete some unfinished legislative business during the lame duck congressional session. The session is scheduled to convene on November 15, 2010, and what could transpire between then and the convening of the next Congress in January has both parties concerned. Prior to the election, Democrats signaled the reintroduction of a series of bills to be taken up during this period. At last count, there were close to 20 such bills to be considered.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) already promised in his own re-election campaign to reintroduce both the DREAM Act, a fast-track for young, undocumented aliens to achieve legal citizenship, and a vote on the repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Both measures are firmly and deliberately attached as provisions in the Defense Reauthorization bill.

Additionally, while the election did nothing to advance the prospects for passage of a comprehensive energy bill, it has allowed room for smaller pieces of energy legislation to be approved. Specifically, a measure requiring electric utilities to provide 15% of their power from renewable sources like solar, wind or hydroelectric may find support. A measure requiring stricter offshore drilling controls was already passed earlier by the House and may now be brought up for a Senate vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also vowed to bring up a one-time $250 payout to retirees since Social Security benefits will not be increased next year. Also included on the Democratic agenda: the resurrection of Card Check, the extension of unemployment benefits, the imposition of duties on US imports, and a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Republicans had anticipated this Democratic strategy as far back as August. The fear was that Democrats would use the post-election period to rush through the rest of their unpopular legislative agenda before the convening of a new Republican-controlled Congress in January 2011.

This fear manifested itself in the introduction of a special resolution by the GOP that would have prohibited any major legislative initiative during a lame duck session. The resolution, however, was quickly defeated.

Ironically, despite the affirmation of their earlier fears, Republicans have hopes that the lame duck session will actually enable them to realize some of their own legislative goals. The most important of these objectives is the permanent extension of all the Bush Tax Cuts, which are currently set to expire on December 31, 2010.

While agreement to extend most of the cuts prior to the election had gained a modicum of bi-partisan support, President Obama and other progressive Democrats balked at extending cuts to top income earners (individuals making over $200,000 and families making over $250,000). Instead, Democrats, hoping to raise the issue as a class warfare campaign tactic, refused to bring the matter up for a floor vote, despite pressure from 31 members of their own caucus.

Now, faced with a stinging electoral rebuke and the risk of alienating the middle class through the imposition of new taxes, there are signs that Democrats are willing to extend the cuts on a temporary two-year basis to all income levels, a prospect inconceivable before Tuesday’s election.

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  • Lawrence Kohn

    The most important concern is preventing a vote on the START treaty which significantly disadvantages the US vs Russia. This may be Obama's only chance to get it through the Senate.

    • Justin Moore

      Another great place to start would be the allowance of expiration of the bush tax cuts. If everyone from the bottom up is going to suffer, I think it is time the top down suffers as well. We are all in the same boat together, and it should not float by throwing some overboard and leaving others to escape scott free…

  • sflbib

    There are 41 republicans in the senate who should bork any new legislation during the lame duck session.

  • Wesley69

    The START treaty requires a 2/3rd's approval so it will go down to defeat.

    Republicans picked up Obama's seat and Mark Kirk, I believe, will be seated immediately. That will make 42 Republicans. If Republicans hold their ground, the Dems with 58 will not be able to stop a filibuster.

    Unfortunatley, there is no checks in the House. The comforting fact is that all bills must pass both houses in identical form. That is where it should break down.

    No Cap & Trade. No Card Check. No Dream Act. Then January comes and we are in better shape to stop Obama's transformation.

    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Thomas Jefferson

  • Wesley69

    Reid must be stopped in his efforts to add measures that should be voted on independently to the Defense Reauthorization bill.

    Reid is betting that by reintroduce both the DREAM Act, (fast-track undocumented aliens to legal citizenship), and the repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

    Henry knows the only way to kill the Dream Act and the Gay Okay Act is to vote against the Defense Reauthorization bill. He believes Republicans will not filibuster it , because if they do, defense suffers. Reid, you evil Wiesel!!!!

    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Thomas Jefferson

  • Bob Johnson

    wow you people are idiots.