Congress to Reconvene Nov. 15 for Lame Duck Session

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), the U.S. House of Representatives will reconvene for a post-election “lame duck” session of Congress. What will be on the agenda? Probably not much, as Republicans will attempt to block any major Democrat legislation.

Some compromise will likely result as some bills demand immediate action. These include: a new continuing resolution to keep the government open past December 3; an extension of ’01 and ’03 tax cuts set to expire at year’s end without affirmative action by Congress, resulting in increases in marginal income tax rates; and yet another short-term fix for the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which will otherwise affect millions of middle-class taxpayers this year. Expect an extension of a year or two on the AMT while Congress awaits the report of President Obama’s debt and deficit commission on December 1 and then a decision on how to treat upper income-earners and small business pass-through entities.

In the Senate, there is talk of bringing the new START Treaty with Russia to the floor, but opposition by some GOP conservatives to the nuclear forces treaty and a recent glitch with our command-and-control systems at a Wyoming air base (50 nuclear-armed ICBMs went “offline” for a period of time – yikes!) may derail this effort.

It remains to be seen how Democrats will react to the election results and how motivated they will be to either pass legislation or punt issues. Stay tuned…

Reading Between the Congressional Work Schedule Lines

While Congress has an unusually busy December this year, don’t expect a repeat in 2010. House Democratic leaders have released a schedule that targets an October 8 adjournment.

In the words of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, "The House vote schedule for 2010 allows ample time for us to build on our work from this year, so that we continue creating jobs and addressing our nation’s long-term fiscal problems. The schedule also ensures that members have the opportunity to conduct important work in their districts and hear directly from their constituents about the challenges they are facing." 

In other words, time needs to be left to campaign with the elections for all House members less than a month away from the October 8 date. The usual recesses (summer period from August 9 to September 13 and weeklong breaks around Presidents Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Yom Kippur) are also in place.

House members seem to be in a never-ending campaign mode with their two-year terms. Should they serve longer or does the current system hold them accountable? Your thoughts are welcome.

On the Clock in Congress

Congressional leaders are telling both senators and representatives two things — expect to be on the floor for longer periods of time and for more days. The simple reason: so many issues to debate and vote on — and so little time.

The "normal" Tuesday through Thursday vote schedule makes it easier for members to travel back to their districts and (sometimes) homes. It’s good for campaigning and touching base in their districts. If that is the main casualty of spending more time shaping and determining these important laws, so be it.

What’s on the schedule?

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) wants to pass at least two spending bills prior to the July 4 break. Those would be a separate war funding measure and a bill allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products
  • Reid says to expect roll call votes nearly every day in July and early August, leading up to the August recess. Health care legislation, more of the dozen appropriations bills and a defense authorization measure are likely among top items on that agenda
  • In the House, expect more votes in June and July than what took place during the first five months of the year. In 2007, more than 350 votes were cast during that period and all 12 appropriations bills were passed
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) notes that there will also be a closer watch on the clock, with roll call votes lasting closer to the more traditional 15 minutes. The machines have been left open 25 minutes or more recently to give members more time to return to the floor and cast their votes

Health care reform and climate change legislation are only two of the biggest issues Congress has faced in many years. Add in the consideration of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (don’t expect a vote before September) and the challenge grows deeper. It’s a chance for Congress to shine and reverse its negative image. Will it be up to the task?