Congress: See you in the lameduck session, folks

The best chance for much progress will be if the Democrats barely hang on to their majorities. If there's a Republican tidal wave, the lameduck lawmakers will probably be too demoralized to do much.

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The best chance for much progress will be if the Democrats barely hang on to their majorities. If there's a Republican tidal wave, the lameduck lawmakers will probably be too demoralized to do much.

Senators and Members of Congress have gone home until after the Nov. 2 election.  In the meantime, the national agenda is on hold until a so-called lameduck session of Congress convenes later in November.

Some in the present Congress are retiring.  Others will lose their seats Nov. 2.  They will nearly all be returning, however, for one last gig before a new Congress is seated in January.  What and how much the lameduck session achieves will depend mainly on the mood prevailing when this most demoralizing and sad campaign ends in a month.

The present Congress left Washington with much business undone. A budget and appropriations bills have not been passed.  Instead, a "continuing resolution" was passed to keep the government running until an actual budget and appropriations bills are in place.

What issues will be raised?  Which will be resolved? Perhaps the most politically sensitive pending issue — whether to extend or change the Bush tax cuts — must be dealt with before year's end.  Otherwise they all will expire. Democrats have put high priority on a Defense authorization bill which includes repeal of "don't-ask-don't-tell" policies that have kept gays from serving openly in the military.

Congressional Democrats have listed some 20 bills they wish to pass in the dying days of 2010.  These include the DREAM Act, which would given illegal immigrants' children a chance at citzenship; a further extension of unemployment benefits; and a freeze on scheduled cuts of Medicare payments to doctors.  These carry big price tags.  Other bills cut across the policy spectrum, ranging from new mine-safety measures to ratification of a new START arms-control treaty with Russia.

One school of thought holds that, if Republicans gain control in November of the House and/or Senate, Demcorats will use their majorities in the lameduck session to push through their entire agenda, knowing it will stand no chance in the new Congress. The other school (to which I subscribe) holds that such an election outcome would generally demoralize Democrats and that those returning to Congress next year would not want to cast politically perilous votes next month, votes that might be out of sync with their already-angry constituents. Instead, they would want to finsih a couple must-do tasks and then clear out.

If Republicans make only slightly larger than usual off-year gains, however, and fall short of 2011 House/Senate control, it is possible that some bills could pass in the lameduck session. One which must be dealt with, regardless, is the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  A majority of congressional Democrats want all the cuts extended except for those on highest-income taxpayers. But a sizeable minority, along with Republicans, want all the cuts extended, on the basis that no taxes should be increased during the continuing economic downturn.

Reminder:  When the present Congress adjourns, all pending legislation dies with it.  That means that, in 2011, new bills will have to be drafted and introduced; hearings held; and the process begun anew as if starting from scratch.

I still expect Republicans to eke out a House majority but to miss narrowly gaining Senate control.  The Republican-Democratic numbers, in any case, will be much closer than they have been over the past two years.  That means that anything not passed in the lameduck session will have an uphill path in 2011-12.   Expect little in November and, then, little in the new Congress as well.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of