Washington, D.C. Update 10/08/2010
With the midterm elections rapidly approaching and control of
both houses of Congress at stake, jittery lawmakers adjourned
early on September 30 to hit the campaign trail. The adjournment
was sooner than expected as lawmakers were originally scheduled
to be in session the week of October 4.
In the weeks leading up to adjournment, Congress accomplished little in the way of legislative business. Democratic congressional leadership has opted to deal with some of the more thorny issues when lawmakers return for a lame-duck session after the elections.
To be sure, efforts by congressional leaders to focus on legislative business in the midst of a heated political season proved to be most challenging. No doubt, leadership on Capitol Hill felt pressure from rank-and-file members to return home to campaign as Democrats tried to hold on to their majorities in both chambers. However, congressional leaders were not immune from election-year pressures as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is locked up in a tight race with his GOP opponent in the Silver State.
Visions of capturing control of Congress provided a powerful incentive for Republicans to head back to their respective states and districts to campaign. With polls showing a strong possibility that the GOP could gain control of the House, and perhaps the Senate, Republican lawmakers were also anxious to leave town.
Democrats, however, did have one notable legislative accomplishment to point to before exiting Washington. In an effort to jump-start the struggling economy, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010. The nascent law establishes a $30 billion lending program for small businesses to hire employees and expand operations. The Act also provides for an additional $12 billion in tax breaks for small business owners.
Among the major legislative items left unfinished were the must-do appropriations bills for fiscal year 2011, which began October 1. Given that Congress decided to delay action on the various spending measures until after the elections, a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 3 was approved just before lawmakers adjourned.
Prior to adjournment, none of the 12 spending measures for fiscal year 2011 had been finalized. The unfinished funding bills are expected to be rolled into a massive omnibus appropriations measure during the lame-duck session, which is scheduled to begin November 15, or left for the new 112th Congress to complete in January or February.
Beyond efforts to finalize the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills, it is unclear what additional legislation Congress will have the time or desire to address in the lame-duck session. While there is no shortage of issues for Congress to tackle, much depends on the outcome of the midterm elections and the political atmosphere surrounding Capitol Hill.
If Republicans capture control of one or both houses of Congress, the dynamics of a post-election session probably would be sharply different than if Democrats maintain the majority. GOP leaders would no doubt find it difficult to approve legislation while still in the minority, hoping to advance their own legislative agenda when they take over the reins in January.
Nevertheless, other possible items left unfinished that could surface in the post-election session include the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, a child nutrition reauthorization, and energy legislation.
Lawmakers will also have to consider extensions of the nation’s surface transportation and aviation programs during the lame-duck session. The current authorizations of the federal highway and transit programs, as well as programs under the Federal Aviation Administration, expire on December 31.