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The Fattest Lame Duck in Captivity: 20 Bills Possible for Lame Duck Session

Got lame? (photo: sanfamedia.com on Flickr)

Think back to the last time the Senate passed 20 bills in a six weeks? I’m going to go ahead and say you can’t. And yet, this is what Democrats will have you believe is the plan for the lame duck session, after a midterm election that will leave them, in all likelihood, with a diminished majority. Maybe the first bill plans to add two months between November and December, because under current Senate rules there’s no way on Earth to do that.

So let’s go down the list, in order of probability of passage:

The highest-profile item for November and December is the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, passed under President George W. Bush, which expire at year’s end.

Democrats have promised they will not allow tax rates to rise for families making less than $250,000 a year.

They’re using a “surely, Republicans will cave” strategy to basically play a game of chicken with the deadline for the tax cuts to expire. Doug Elmendorf gave ammunition to both sides of this debate today, arguing that a full extension would raise output and employment in the short term, but hobble growth and incomes over the long term. But that’s something that wonks can bounce around between each other – the tax cuts are essentially a test of will, and given past experience, I don’t know how you could think that the Democrats would win that.

Next:

Democratic leaders have also prioritized the defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, has promised to push for a vote on the DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants a chance to earn legal residence.

That’s in the same package right now, with the DREAM Act offered as an amendment to the defense bill. Republicans blocked it before the midterms and I see little reason why they wouldn’t after them. The Pentagon study does come out on December 1, which could change the dynamic somewhat. Gay rights advocates are extremely skeptical that it gets done.

Next!

Democratic leaders also view an extension of unemployment insurance benefits and a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements as must-pass legislation.

That’s right! The extension of unemployment insurance and the doctor’s fix only lasted until the end of November. So those would have to be renewed, or else millions of Americans will lose their benefits. This alone took up weeks of floor time over the summer.

Let’s just list the rest:

• The deficit commission recommendations: The Hill article completely neglects this, but the cat food commission should give their recommendations by December 1. The Senate and House are committed to vote on them at that time.

• Tax extenders bill: Max Baucus just created a new version of this, mostly paid for with big taxes on Big Oil. It includes the Office of Homeowner Advocate, the appeals process for HAMP, which Sen. Al Franken has promoted.

• EPA: Jay Rockefeller wants to block the EPA from regulating carbon emissions for two years, and he claims to have the votes to get this done. You could see this come up as an amendment to many legislative vehicles. Reid has promised a vote.

• Renewable energy standard: Jeff Bingaman and Sam Brownback have a bill to create an RES of 15% of electricity from renewables by 2021. They have four Republicans on board but will need more for passage. And Harry Reid refuses to give them floor time until he gets assured of 60 votes. Reid also has an energy bill, a narrowly-cast measure with incentives for electric cars and natural gas vehicles, money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, oil spill response and the Home Star energy efficiency program for residential buildings.

• START Treaty: The arms reduction treaty with Russia passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with three Republicans supporting, but would need five others to come aboard, along with every Democrat, for the 67 votes needed for ratification.

• Child nutrition/food safety: These two popular bills have languished for a variety of reasons, with child nutrition passed in the Senate and food safety passed in the House. Republicans have obstructed them consistently, and liberal Democrats hate the pay-for, a decrease in food stamp payments, in the child nutrition bill, essentially paying for a child’s lunch by taking away their dinner.

• Chinese currency bill: The House votes on this tomorrow, but their version of the bill may not have widespread support in the Senate. But Chuck Schumer wants a Senate bill to come up in the lame duck, and there’s a scenario where he becomes Majority or Minority Leader-in-waiting at that time. The Obama Administration has been very mum on the whole thing.

• Updating No Child Left Behind: We’ve been waiting for a reauthorization of this for some time, and my guess is we’ll wait some more. The Obama Administration has its own ideas about education that they’ve succeeded in pushing through other means.

• Remainders: There are bills on: Cybersecurity (a Lieberman bill – look out), FAA multiyear authorization, Mine safety, NASA authorization, Intelligence authorization (which I mentioned a short time ago). And maybe even the South Korea free trade agreement, though more likely that would get held over to the next Congress.

Oh, and Eric Holder would like the Senate to get off their rears and confirm some judges and end the crisis in our courts.

So that’s all.

CommunityThe Bullpen

The Fattest Lame Duck in Captivity: 20 Bills Possible for Lame Duck Session

Think back to the last time the Senate passed 20 bills in a six weeks? I’m going to go ahead and say you can’t. And yet, this is what Democrats will have you believe is the plan for the lame duck session, after a midterm election that will leave them, in all likelihood, with a diminished majority. Maybe the first bill plans to add two months between November and December, because under current Senate rules there’s no way on Earth to do that.

So let’s go down the list, in order of probability of passage:

The highest-profile item for November and December is the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, passed under President George W. Bush, which expire at year’s end.

Democrats have promised they will not allow tax rates to rise for families making less than $250,000 a year.

They’re using a “surely, Republicans will cave” strategy to basically play a game of chicken with the deadline for the tax cuts to expire. Doug Elmendorf gave ammunition to both sides of this debate today, arguing that a full extension would raise output and employment in the short term, but hobble growth and incomes over the long term. But that’s something that wonks can bounce around between each other – the tax cuts are essentially a test of will, and given past experience, I don’t know how you could think that the Democrats would win that.

Next:

Democratic leaders have also prioritized the defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, has promised to push for a vote on the DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants a chance to earn legal residence.

That’s in the same package right now, with the DREAM Act offered as an amendment to the defense bill. Republicans blocked it before the midterms and I see little reason why they wouldn’t after them. The Pentagon study does come out on December 1, which could change the dynamic somewhat. Gay rights advocates are extremely skeptical that it gets done.

Next!

Democratic leaders also view an extension of unemployment insurance benefits and a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements as must-pass legislation.

That’s right! The extension of unemployment insurance and the doctor’s fix only lasted until the end of November. So those would have to be renewed, or else millions of Americans will lose their benefits. This alone took up weeks of floor time over the summer.

Let’s just list the rest:

• The deficit commission recommendations: The Hill article completely neglects this, but the cat food commission should give their recommendations by December 1. The Senate and House are committed to vote on them at that time.

• Tax extenders bill: Max Baucus just created a new version of this, mostly paid for with big taxes on Big Oil. It includes the Office of Homeowner Advocate, the appeals process for HAMP, which Sen. Al Franken has promoted.

• EPA: Jay Rockefeller wants to block the EPA from regulating carbon emissions for two years, and he claims to have the votes to get this done. You could see this come up as an amendment to many legislative vehicles. Reid has promised a vote.

• Renewable energy standard: Jeff Bingaman and Sam Brownback have a bill to create an RES of 15% of electricity from renewables by 2021. They have four Republicans on board but will need more for passage. And Harry Reid refuses to give them floor time until he gets assured of 60 votes. Reid also has an energy bill, a narrowly-cast measure with incentives for electric cars and natural gas vehicles, money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, oil spill response and the Home Star energy efficiency program for residential buildings.

• START Treaty: The arms reduction treaty with Russia passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with three Republicans supporting, but would need five others to come aboard, along with every Democrat, for the 67 votes needed for ratification.

• Child nutrition/food safety: These two popular bills have languished for a variety of reasons, with child nutrition passed in the Senate and food safety passed in the House. Republicans have obstructed them consistently, and liberal Democrats hate the pay-for, a decrease in food stamp payments, in the child nutrition bill, essentially paying for a child’s lunch by taking away their dinner.

• Chinese currency bill: The House votes on this tomorrow, but their version of the bill may not have widespread support in the Senate. But Chuck Schumer wants a Senate bill to come up in the lame duck, and there’s a scenario where he becomes Majority or Minority Leader-in-waiting at that time. The Obama Administration has been very mum on the whole thing.

• Updating No Child Left Behind: We’ve been waiting for a reauthorization of this for some time, and my guess is we’ll wait some more. The Obama Administration has its own ideas about education that they’ve succeeded in pushing through other means.

• Remainders: There are bills on: Cybersecurity (a Lieberman bill – look out), FAA multiyear authorization, Mine safety, NASA authorization, Intelligence authorization (which I mentioned a short time ago). And maybe even the South Korea free trade agreement, though more likely that would get held over to the next Congress.

Oh, and Eric Holder would like the Senate to get off their rears and confirm some judges and end the crisis in our courts.

So that’s all.

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David Dayen

David Dayen