Just How Lame Will This Lame Duck Be?

The GOP has named the 22 members of its transition team and it’s ready to get to work. Don’t expect the work for these lawmakers to include any actual law-making, though. Not till January, anyway.

I-35

Three years after the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis killed 13 people, Congress still isn't treating infrastructure investment as an urgent matter. Photo: AP

The lame duck session, which begins Monday, has a long agenda. On the list of have-to’s:

  • Coming to some agreement about extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire December 31.
  • Passing a continuing resolution, basically a way of not actually passing a budget but avoiding a government shutdown.
  • Fixing the Medicare physician payments, which are set to drop at the end of the year.
  • Extending unemployment benefits, which are also due to expire (though Republicans are insisting on spending cuts before they’ll approve this, so it could be downgraded from a “have-to” to a “really-should”).

Don’t see the President’s $50 billion infrastructure down payment on there? Don’t expect to. And that continuing resolution means that Congress can get out of passing the FY 2011 appropriations bill for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. The bill passed in the House over the summer and was sent to the Senate. In general, no real spending measures will likely get voted on right now.

Aside from finding some stalling mechanism to deal with the four items above, neither party has the stomach for big policy debates right now. The Democrats are demoralized and just want to get out of there as quickly as possible. The Republicans would rather have these fights after January 3, when they have 60 more people on their side of the aisle.

Besides, they’re going to be busy. In addition to saving two million people’s unemployment benefits (a “maybe” for the GOP) and saving tax cuts for the richest two percent (a definite “yes” for the GOP), the House is also holding new member orientations, and the parties will hold leadership elections.

So items like infrastructure and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell have fallen off the agenda. Will the Senate take up the nuclear treaty with Russia? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? To reduce the likelihood of nuclear annihilation and whatnot? Republicans are delaying that too.