Lame Duck Legislative Update

By:  Ann Shibler

The current lame duck session of Congress is as busy, or busier, than anticipated. In fact, it looks exactly the same as a regular session with a routine daily schedule plus the added urgency and pressures of a somewhat desperate Democratic majority needing to get pet legislation passed before a new Congress is sworn in.

There are the usual items on the daily agenda, such as the important job of bestowing names on various post offices throughout the land, congressional blessings on secular organizations, and the ever-present intrusive guidelines for digital information sharing and background checks. But the real deal-making is taking place behind closed doors, in meetings and caucuses galore, where the tax cut extension details and other bills are being worked out,

Many headlines touted a compromise deal between the two parties on Monday, Dec. 6, but the finer print tells us that there is still much to be done before any consensus is reached. The “framework” is there, but no “legislative language” is yet available. This is dangerous because without exact language, new provisions and changes can be made any time along the legislative route with little notice or fanfare.

Obama is willing for the Democrats to extend all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts including for the so called “rich,” for two years in return for the extension of unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Inflation adjustments to the Alternative Minimum Tax would also be extended through 2011. The current proposal for the estate tax is to implement a 35 percent tax rate with a $3.5 million exemption; Dems had wanted a 55 percent rate with a $1 million exemption.

President Obama held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to earnestly begin selling the scheme to his own party. He wants the Democrats to pass this proposal saying he will fight against the tax cut extensions for the wealthy when they expire in another two years and promised he would pressure Republicans into paying for these tax cuts down the line. The debate is likely to go on for days in Congress with huge pressure from organized groups like SEIU,, Democracy in Action, and similar leftists who oppose including the “rich” in the tax cut extensions.

The White House has also asked for an additional $11 billion in spending, to be worked into a continuing resolution that would fund the government through 2011. Over $400 million of this would be for Afghanistan and $624 million for improved nuclear arms controls to implement per the START treaty. This is just the sort of leverage the White House needs to get START ratified, as there were Republican objections about finding the money to pay for measures in the treaty.

But the continuing resolution (CR) is a complicated affair.  The omnibus measure would encompass many more things; more money for Obama’s “Race to the Top,” for NASA, the Veterans Administration, increased military pay and for military programs that pay compensation for private citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan, for fighting terrorism in Yemen and for helping the Israelis anti-rocket defense shield. plus the funding of many other government agencies and programs.

Congressional Quarterly reports that “House Democrats are expected to use a fiscal 2010 appropriations bill (HR 3082), originally meant to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the legislative vehicle for the CR.” This is a clever move as it prevents House Republicans from amending the measure through a motion to recommit the bill, saving time and the danger of a filibuster. The CR could reach the House floor on Wednesday or Thursday.

The DREAM Act seems to be fading from the spotlight, but in this political climate, one can never be sure of the death of any piece of legislation. For days several organizations and congressmen were trumpeting its certain passage, but with the gridlock over the tax cuts and Democrat disagreeing with Democrat, at least talk of it has considerably lessened. It was floated that Congress would adjourn on December 18, which would decrease the chances of passing the DREAM Act. So, if one had to guess, the better guess would be that Congress will probably go down to the wire on this session, right up to Christmas, thereby giving things like the DREAM Act another shot.

Click on the embedded links to send messages to Congress on the legislation mentioned above.


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