November 15th, 2010
08:16 AM ET
3 years ago

Will lame-duck Congress settle differences or scores?

(CNN) - The Democratic-led Congress that was knocked on its heels by voters November 2 returns for a post-election, lame-duck session Monday with a long list of controversial bills Democrats would like to clear before January when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and bulk up their numbers in the Senate.

Whether they can pass any of these measures, which include funding the government and extending Bush-era tax cuts, is an open question. If they can't, the bills will die or be punted over to the new Congress

At this point, congressional Democrats, who are still licking their wounds and assessing the fallout from Election Day, are split on key policies, and they're not ready to begin negotiations with Republicans.

"We have a whole bunch of people who want to talk about what happened," said a top Senate Democratic leadership aide who said those discussions will begin in earnest Tuesday when Senate Democrats gather for their weekly policy lunch. "Folks want to have a chance to assess where we are and where we're going" before settling on the nettlesome details of tax and spending levels.

Meanwhile, a senior Senate Republican leadership aide predicted "only the bare minimum" will get passed in the lame-duck session. Republicans, the aide said, will be content to wait for Democrats to sort out what they want to do. After all, the GOP will have more control over any of the issues that are held over to the new Congress.

More clarity, particularly on the issue of taxes, could come Thursday when President Obama plans to meet with bipartisan congressional leaders at the White House. Obama, who has long opposed extending the lower Bush tax rates for wealthier Americans, suggested recently that he's open to compromises on extending, at least temporarily, the tax rates for all Americans regardless of their income level.

New members/same leaders

While Congress has many legislative priorities for the lame-duck session, much of the focus will be on planning for the new Congress.

Beginning Monday, Capitol Hill will be flooded by an especially large class of newly elected members of the House and Senate. Many of them won with support from the Tea Party, which is pushing for dramatic change in the Washington's priorities, especially when it comes to tackling debt and the deficit.

But before those new lawmakers can change Washington, they must sit through an extensive weeklong orientation that will teach them the arcane and complex rules of legislating. They will learn the basics of how to set up their offices, hire staff and what ethics rules they must follow. Then they'll jockey with each other to win key committee assignments and compete in a lottery for the best office space.

One of the first orders of business for new and returning lawmakers is voting for their party leaders. Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio is expected to become the new House speaker, and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia will become the House majority leader.

House Democrats appear prepared to keep House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California in their top job - minority leader - and a deal struck by Pelosi over the weekend averted a nasty battle for the remaining leadership positions.

But one conservative Democrat, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, has said he will challenge Pelosi if she does not step aside.

"To be able to put Speaker Pelosi as minority leader is unacceptable for our party, to move our party forward in a moderate direction," Shuler said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," though he acknowledged he didn't have enough support to win.

Democrats will meet Wednesday to vote on the slate of candidates, and rank-and-file members will decide then whether they will accept the exact same leadership team that lost them majority control.

The Senate Democratic leadership will stay largely intact, although Democrats will have to pick a new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who will face the daunting task of defending as many as 23 seats in the next election - many in purple states that split their support between the two parties - while just nine Republican-held seats will be up.

Senate Republicans will keep their current leadership team. But GOP senators face a tough vote Tuesday on whether to give up earmarks entirely, a policy House Republicans already have in place and are expected to maintain in the new Congress. The idea is popular with many reform-minded senators but opposed by a number of senior members who believe steering funds to home state projects is one of their key prerogatives. Aides said the outcome of the vote is too close to call.

Leftover business

In addition to the expiring Bush tax rates, the reductions in the estate tax are also expiring. That means if Congress does not act, the estate tax rate, which this year is zero, will return next year to 55 percent on assets of more than $1 million, close to where it was before the cuts were adopted in 2001. One bipartisan Senate proposal would cap the tax at 35 percent on assets over $3.5 million, but serious negotiations haven't started on the issue yet, aides from both parties said.

Congress must quickly decide what to do about government funding before a temporary bill that's keeping the government running lapses December 3. House Republicans are pressing for a nearly yearlong extension but want the funding reduced to 2008 levels. A Senate Democratic leadership aide called that "flat-out unacceptable" but said Democratic senators would be open to discussing reduced spending.

Senate Democrats have a number of other bills they would like to pass but acknowledge GOP opposition will make that difficult. Because the lame-duck session will only last a few weeks, Democrats said they can't afford to take up controversial bills that will take a long time to debate.

One example is the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the armed forces.

The repeal is attached to the annual defense authorization bill, something that typically wins bipartisan support, but often after weeks of floor debate.

Because many Republicans oppose lifting the ban and are unwilling to agree to a time limit for debate, it's unlikely the defense bill will come up this year, aides from both parties said.

Also in the Senate, Democrats said they will try, but doubt they can win approval for, a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and funding for the settlement of a discrimination suit by black farmers. One bill Senate Democrats hope they can get through is a long-stalled food safety measure that faces a key test vote Wednesday.

House is expected to vote on several bills that are Democratic priorities, although none is expected to become law. They include a measure to give Social Security recipients a $250 payment to make up for not getting a cost-of-living adjustment this year because inflation is so low; a child nutrition bill that Michelle Obama has pushed; and a targeted immigration reform - the "Dream Act" - which would allow children of illegal immigrants to become citizens if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military.

Some less controversial bills will likely get through, the aides said.

They include: a short-term extension of the so-called "doc-fix," so that doctors who treat Medicare patients won't see a reduction in their payments; and adjustments to the Alternative Minimum Tax so that more middle-income families won't get hit with a higher tax bill next year. Several other less controversial expiring tax measures also are expected to be approved.

Americans frequently said they are eager for lawmakers in Washington to compromise with each other. The most interesting aspect of the lame-duck session might not be what bills Congress does or doesn't pass, but how well

Democrats and Republicans work together in the wake of this month's stunning election. Will lawmakers use the lame-duck session to find compromises, or will they use it to highlight their differences and begin to position themselves for the next election?


Filed under: Congress
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. proud military mom

    Why can this administration not understand the citizens of this country want "permanent" jobs created? Did they not hear this in midterm elections? The 2% wealthy of this nation who benefit from the Bush tax cuts is not a significant amount of money to help this country's budget and the rest affected by this tax will be small business owners. this won't help job creation and the democrats creation of class warfare is very detrimental to all citizens.

    November 15, 2010 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  2. PAUL W!

    Since the GOP is interested in only gaining power and making its rich friends richer at the expense of the rest of America, the answer to this question seems pretty clear.

    November 15, 2010 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  3. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Let these tax cuts expire. What Bush should have done is not proposed these taxes at all. He should have stated that he was planning on cutting spending and paying down the debt which would have made these wars less painful for our budget. Some fiscal conservative he and the GOP are - NOT!

    November 15, 2010 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  4. jules sand-perkins

    If moderate Democratic voices like Rep. Heath Shuler's are heard and factored into party policy, Democrats can find strength in their Nov. 2 defeat.
    A continuation of Obama's wealth-spreading agenda will destroy that party before it destroys the nation, given our current demographics: we just proved that in a dramatic election.

    November 15, 2010 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  5. keepstufingthis

    Ah, the face that launched millions of votes in the 2010 elections. Hopefully, she will account for millions more in 2012. Not her fault, you know. Never is for a democrat liberal, no sense of personal responsibility.

    November 15, 2010 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  6. jpmichigan

    Not much will get done as long as Pelosi and Reid are there. The President will extend the tax cuts of George Bush for now. The Democrats will continue to shove in their agenda on Defense or budget bills, just like in the past. Changes will become, the Party of NO! will now belong to the Democrats. Earmarks should be band. The American people have spoken. What happens now and until 2012 will determine who stays or goes!

    November 15, 2010 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  7. Emile Zola

    The media, as usual, ignores the 800 LBS gorilla in the room, for obvious reasons: The bottom line. Tea partiers, republicans won in the past elections because in the places that democrats lost racism is and was the motor, but if to that racism we add reality, then we have that there was not such political Earthquake. It was reported by the same media that ever since elections started, the governing party always loses seats and if to that we add the jobs situation, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict the "Earthquake." In other words, it was the perfect storm for this democracy of ours. And to add salt to injury, the voters have the attention span of a two year old. It's hard to comprehend how many of the 98% of Americans can vote for the same people who gaves the second great depression and then expect same old, same old to fix it in two years. Rome wasn't built in a year and this second great depression is not going to be cured like it was the common cold. It's going to take years, if not decades. But why people who can barely make it from pay check to pay check for republicans? That I don't understand, other than for racist reasons. People who rather go down with the Titanic than give up their pride possession: Racism.

    November 15, 2010 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  8. New Age Independant

    One would hope that Democrats got the message from the PEOPLE and act accordingly. However; I wouldn't bet on it as I have seen nothing in this administration to indicate that any "CHANGE" has taken place from the corrupt and unethical ways that Democrats have brazenly displayed over the past few years.

    November 15, 2010 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  9. Moderate

    Settel scores, man we should become their worst nighmare. We are intending to show up at every town hall meeting screaming our lungs out. Whenever speaker Banner takes the floor we are yelling "You Lie". We must stop any GOP sponsered legislation with filibusters. Why should we lay down? We are mad as hell and want to take our country back

    November 15, 2010 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Neither. they will simply cancel each other out, to prevent runaway spending.

    November 15, 2010 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  11. SuperD

    I cannot believe the DEMS are going to let Pelosi be minority leader. How stupid can you be? I guess that stupid.

    November 15, 2010 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  12. Phil in KC

    Democrats should use their remaining majority status to push through whatever they can....

    November 15, 2010 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...And my money goes with me!

    November 15, 2010 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  14. SayWhat

    Dems ,haven't you learned anything from the last two year? Do not even think about compromise. Make the GOP pass the extention of the tax cuts for the rich and then torch them for it in 2012. So NO to all tax cuts, say no to anything but cuts in defense spending and soay no to deregulation (especially in the finacial sector).

    November 15, 2010 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  15. ken

    keep Pelosi as leader, and end tax cuts for top 2 percent, greed does not produce jobs for Americans!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 15, 2010 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  16. gt

    it would be easy for pay back , but i hope the new congress will now work for the people not the party....

    November 15, 2010 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  17. Former Republican - Now Independent

    Yeah, sure. There is more chance that Netanyahu and Achmadinejad will have a cordial breakfast together next week.

    Seriously though, I'd pay money to see Pelosi and Boehner kiss and make up. Then there would be real hope for the country.

    ... but as L. J. Gibbs would say, "Not gonna happen."

    November 15, 2010 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  18. Mason

    The only thing less popular that the GOP or the Dems is Nancy Pelosi. Cruella de Vil is the gift that keeps on giving and it looks like Dems are going back to that tainted well. Pelosi is is the symbold of being tone deaf and arroganct beyond belief and a clear example of what the GOP needs to keep in my mind of what not to be like in the next congress. We are in for some gridlock but they will get the tax issues resolved. Too bad for the good of the economny taxes could not have been resolved sooner but Democratic cowardice ruled.

    November 15, 2010 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  19. king

    these repugs think they got all under control if that was the case why didnt they be specific on what they were going to do when the retake congress. i think they dont have a clue and will depend on the mood of the people. which will send us realing down into a depression. americans are reactionist and reacts to any thing without fully understanding what the situations are or what will happened in an action taken without considering the reprocussion. see every thing that look easy is not that easy in reality its a million thing that could go wrong and one thing may make things way worse than what the situation is at the moment. youve got to analyze all situations and weigh the pros and cons using experience, logic and share common sense. these newbees coming in here with the motivation of all those americans that voted for them is a dangerous situation because they are gunho and said they going to do what the american people want without considering the effects of their actions and the dems are so demoralize at the moment they have no way of stoppping these head strong inexperience soldiers of the people to not even slow them down. so disaster here we come.

    November 15, 2010 10:53 am at 10:53 am |