5 Key Issues The Lame Duck Congress Needs to Resolve in Final Two Months

No one party is going to hold the majority for long. For all the rhetoric from the vice president, by the end of Election Day, the results were not that surprising. The Democrats were not going to keep control forever and the Republicans need to realize neither will they.

Now that the midterms are over, the next tough pill to swallow are the next two months of watching and waiting to see what comes out of the 2014 lame duck Congress. These 5 areas will show how far the Republicans can reach across the aisle in the Democrats’ final two months in control of the U.S. Senate.

Confirmations

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, laid out the calendar and likelihood for a vote on who will succeed retiring Attorney General Eric Holder.

“Seven weeks from the day we come in is New Year’s Eve, and that’s assuming we don’t take Christmas week off and Thanksgiving week off, which we would. So there’s only five weeks maximum available in the lame duck, and that’s with everything you’ve got to do. So to try to cram an AG into that, if they lose the Senate, for the president to try to do that would be a real challenge.” – Don Stewart

To compound matters, assuming Obama nominates Labor Secretary Tom Perez as attorney general, there will need to be another confirmation battle to fill Perez’s old seat.

Immigration

President Obama promised to act on immigration well before the midterms, but postponed any executive action until after. Now that the elections are over, Obama is looking into what “lawful actions” he could do himself through executive action. The Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill was a tall order for the House.

Whatever Obama does on his own will undoubtedly create tension between himself and the new GOP-controlled Congress. That is why the lame duck session will be the White House and congressional Democrats’ last chance to see the current reform become law.

Foreign Policy

The last lame duck session following midterms saw Obama work with Congress to get a lot done, relatively speaking. Congress ratified the new START treaty with Russia and threw out Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The big military and foreign policy issue this time around revolves around Syria.

The Islamic State is grabbing ground in Iraq and working behind the scenes among Syrian rebels to disrupt the country further. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 (H.R. 4435) enumerates how the House plans to tackle this issue. The Senate has not passed their version, but at least there is a starting point.

A conference to combine and edit both Sen. Carl Levin’s NDAA with the House’s version will not be an easy task. Sen. Levin is retiring at the end of the session and is the current chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The Economy and Jobs

The economy may have been a reason why Democrats did not fare too well. The unemployment rate is lowering, but there remains a certain amount of discontent among the electorate. It was an important issue in West Virginia and Louisiana. To be fair, Sen. Mary Landrieu still has a chance in the runoff, but the economy was a key issue behind U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s success on election night.

To combat this obstacle, Sen. McConnell has already discussed working with President Obama on reforming the business tax code to appease corporations and incentivize small businesses to hire more workers.

Tinkering with the tax code is a treacherous and time consuming task, but the goal is to improve the economy. Another way to boost hiring is for the House and Senate to work on the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (H.R. 2996 and S. 1468). These are strong bipartisan bills that, once conferenced, could make it to the president’s desk before the next session of Congress begins.

Budget

The government can’t operate without a budget lest it shuts down. Since the last continuing resolution expires in early December, resolving this issue is a major priority for the lame duck Congress. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget places this at the top of Congress’ to-do list.

What was supposed to be an annual appropriations process has turned into one that only lasts a few months at best or shuts down the government at worst. This issue will require support from Democrats and Republicans. That means that when this next CR expires and the Republicans have to extend it further, they shouldn’t forget about the bipartisan work Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) accomplished with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

 

This is not a full list by any means of everything that should get wrapped up by the new year. Unfortunately for Democrats, they may have to put a hold on some of their more grandiose legislative items for another 2 years. That will be their next big shot at turning the tables again.

Photo Credit: S. Borisov / shutterstock.com