The House and Senate have been in recess since late September, and will return Wednesday for the start of the Lame Duck session.
Lame Duck Overview:
There is only one true “Must-Pass” bill on the calendar for the Lame Duck session – the Continuing Resolution. That’s because the current CR extends through midnight December 11, so both houses will have to pass a CR, and the President will have to sign it, to extend government funding beyond that date.
The first issue the Leadership will have to decide on the CR is, how long? That is, how long should the CR last?
Senate Democrats want to pass a full-year Omnibus bill, so they can have a measure of influence over how much we spend for the rest of FY2015. Some squishy Republicans in both houses want this, too, though why is not exactly clear – except, of course, there’s always their desire for harmony with the Democrats to consider.
House and Senate conservatives, on the other hand, want a short-term CR, so the new 114th Congress can exert its influence over spending for the latter half of FY2015. Presumably, that would mean lower spending levels than would be the case if Democrats had influence over the bill.
Keep in mind, though, this is funding for FY2015 we’re talking about. Theoretically, these spending levels should have been set before the end of September. The FY2015 budget is the rightful province of the 113th Congress. So just because our side won the 2014 elections doesn’t mean our team’s leadership will fight to make it a short-term CR.
As of now, I can tell you the GOP leadership’s attitude is to go ahead and pass a full-year Omnibus, just so they can avoid a fight with the Democrats and start the 114th Congress with a clean slate. They are listening to voices in the commentariat urging them to read the election results as a demand by the country that players in Washington “get along” and “compromise” to “get things done.”
(Ed. Note – it seems to me that the country is pretty smart. The country knows there’s a Democrat in the White House. If the country wanted the Congress to “work with” the President to “get things done,” the country would have sent Democrats back to the Congress in control of both houses. The country obviously decided to do something else – that is, to give Republicans control of the Senate with an expanded majority in the House, and control of another 11 state legislatures and some big Blue-State governorships (like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts) to boot. It seems to your editor as if the message the country was sending to Washington was, “We don’t like what the President is doing, and we want you to stop it.”)
In addition to that one must-pass, the Obama Administration is pushing Congress hard for quick action on two fronts: a funding package for the U.S. Ebola response ($6 billion) and more funding for action against ISIS (reportedly $3.2 billion).
Other items that could see the light of day during the Lame Duck session include:
- Executive Amnesty: Many conservatives in the House and Senate want to enact some kind of language blocking the President’s planned Executive Amnesty. The only thing I’ve seen that seems to a) make sense, legislatively and politically, and b) stand a chance of actually working might be to include the Cruz/Blackburn language that prohibits continuing or expanding the DACA program, or to include similar language in the CR that prohibits funding for continuation or expansion of the DACA program.
- AUMF: The President has decided that he needs a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq and Syria, after all, and he has asked Congress to pass such a resolution.
- Tax extenders: House Republicans are considering a one-year extension of more than 50 expired personal and corporate tax breaks (mostly corporate) known as “extenders,” but many of the rank and file want to postpone consideration until the new Congress is inaugurated.
- SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate): Many Hill aides say the Lame Duck session could be the last chance to get a permanent “doc fix” done before the 2016 elections. It’s expensive – north of $100 billion – and coming up with the pay-fors is always the hard part.
- TPA (Trade Promotion Authority): The Chamber and its allies are pushing hard for Congress and the President to compromise and pass a Trade Promotion Authority bill with fast-track provisions during the Lame Duck session.
- ObamaCare Risk Corridor reform: Many conservatives intend to push House leadership to include a “no bailout for insurance companies” provision in the CR.
- Vitter Legislation: My old favorite, the Vitter/DeSantis legislation to overturn the OPM decision to provide a special exemption from ObamaCare to Members of Congress and their staffs, may get another push in the House on the CR.
LORETTA LYNCH NOMINATION:
Yesterday, the President nominated Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to be the next Attorney General, replacing Eric “Forgotten but not Gone” Holder. If confirmed, Ms. Lynch will be the first black woman to hold the post of Attorney General of the United States.
Mitch McConnell has made it clear he wants her confirmation to be considered by the 114th Congress.
Ted Cruz and Mike Lee issued a statement yesterday indicating they intend to ask about her views on executive amnesty. Since she would be the highest ranking law enforcement official in the country, they believe it is fair to inquire as to her thoughts on whether or not the President has the legal and constitutional authority to grant amnesty via work permit to millions of illegal immigrants.
In the Senate, there is now an argument taking place about what the soon-to-be-majority Republicans should do about the judicial and executive branch nomination filibuster.
Many conservatives now take the position that Harry Reid broke the Senate when he invoked the nuclear option on judicial and executive branch nominations. Their argument is simple, and compelling – now that the threshold for confirmation has been set by the Democrats at just 51 votes (and just 50 if your party controls the White House, and the Vice President is available to act as the tie-breaking vote), it would be asinine for the Republicans to restore the Senate rules to where they were ante bellum. Doing so, they argue, would set a dangerous precedent – it would take just 51 votes to confirm someone when the Democrats are in the majority, and 60 when they are in the minority. Put another way, it would mean Senate Democrats would use majority rule to control the Senate when they’re in the majority, and they would use minority rule to control the Senate when they’re in the minority.
Some of our friends, though, revere the Senate and its institutions so much, though, that they are hesitant to confirm the Rules change by letting a GOP-majority Senate use those rules. They point out that historically, the filibuster has been used most often by conservatives seeking to protect the rights of the minority (which conservatives always are, no matter which party controls the Senate).
This is an issue we may be asked to weigh in on in the near future, so I wanted to put it on the radar screen now. The issue won’t be decided this week, but it will be soon, so it’s time to start thinking about it.
The Republican Members-elect of the 114th Congress will join with the returning Republican Members of the 113th Congress to hold leadership elections for the 114th Congress on Thursday, November 13, beginning at 1 PM. Then they will follow up on Friday with votes for Conference Rules and the Steering Committee resolution, which will determine which Members sit on which committees.
In the wake of the midterm elections, there will be no change in the GOP leadership in either house – Mitch McConnell is firmly ensconced as the next Majority Leader, and John Boehner will be the Speaker of the 114th Congress. Nor do I see any likelihood of a change in any of the secondary or tertiary leadership positions.