Now that the elections are over, it’s time for the “Lame Duck” Congress. For those that aren’t familiar with this term, it’s the last six weeks of the session after elections. During this time, each party will pick its leadership for the next Congress, determine committee posts, and for many members on the Democrat side, cleaning out their offices. However there is still legislation that needs to get done, particularly whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, ratification of the latest nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and the ethics trial of Charlie Rangel (D-NY). For the Democrats, it’s a chance to pass more spending bills without worrying about electoral repercussions, which they plan to do with a proposed $1.1 trillion spending project to compliment the budget that still doesn’t exist, (and assuming that the other $3 trillion in spending is still not enough government control over the econony) which Republicans will probably filibuster. These are important items of business, because if they don’t get passed during this time, then they get tossed out and would have to be re-introduced in the next Congress, which given the radically different landscape expected, may not happen.
Let’s start with the leadership fights. For the Republicans, it is a foregone conclusion that John Boehner (R-Ohio), will become the next Speaker of the House, and Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), will be the new Majority Leader. Before the election, it was assumed that Mike Pence (R-Indiana) would be the new Whip, but he stepped down from his position as the third-ranking member of the caucus as he seeks other ambitions. Therefore, California representative Kevin McCarthy will be the new Majority Whip.
While the Republicans power group was neat and tidy, the Democrats’ fight was a messy business. In a surprising decision, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), went for the position of Minority Leader, despite some members pushing her to retire. It is uncommon for an ousted Speaker to stay in Congress after losing the job, a recent example being Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), the last Republican Speaker. After losing his job in the Democratic wave of 2006, he only remained in the body for a few months, and left in the middle of his term. Usually when one tries to stay on as party leader, it’s usually an indication that they either think they can get back to the Speaker’s chair, or the party believes it wasn’t his/her fault that their party lost. It is unfathomable to think the latter possibility because when a party loses 62 seats in one election, someone wasn’t doing their job as both leader of the government and leader of the party. To win back the majority, Dems would have to flip roughly 25 house seats in 2012. While not impossible, it would mean having a fourth straight wave election, which would be a very ominous sign for the stability of the country if we have four cycles with more than a 20-seat turnover each time. If the economy continues to falter, the Dems may have their opening, but it will be hard to pin that on the GOP while the President is still a Democrat.
As for the legislative aspect of this Congress, the Bush tax cuts remain the hot-button issue. As I stated in an earlier post (Bush Tax Cuts: To Extend or Not to Extend), this must be done before the session ends, otherwise everybody’s taxes will increase beginning January 1st. If these tax cuts are not extended, it could lead to even more unemployment, and added difficulty for middle-class families to make ends meet. The Democrats want just the middle class cuts to be extended, while Republicans want them extended across the board. Seeing as how the Democrats still hold the government, they have the leverage to get what they want passed and put the GOP on the defensive. However, they had this leverage for two years, and they always seemed to find a way to blow it. It’s possible that the middle class cuts would be extended on a bipartisan basis, and when the GOP moves into the majority, they can try to get the other cuts extended as well. However, this scenario would require Senate and Presidential compliance, which will be in short supply next year, and certainly not for this. The likely scenario is that they won’t get extended because of the infighting among Democratic members that still persists on this issue, and it won’t be brought to a vote, leaving the GOP to deal with it, and the average American with the bill. Compromise is still in the works, but how much will remains after the elections is undeterminable.
So for six weeks, we sit and wait for our legislators to finish up before the transfer of power. It’s been a Congress marked by partisan bickering, wasteful spending, strong-arm tactics, closed door agreements, and a disgusting growth of government. Hopefully these last moments will result in a glimmer of hope for those that finally want to see something done in a bipartisan, open way, but I’m not holding my breath.