Democrats deny ‘secret plan’

The head of House Democrats’ campaign committee tried Tuesday to tamp down speculation that the party would try to push through major legislation during a lame-duck session of Congress this fall.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said “no one should think there’s some secret plan for after the election on big issues.”

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“There’s no secret or overt plan to do something like that,” he told MSNBC.

But Democrats will face a lot of unfinished business when they return to Washington after November’s elections — likely with a smaller majority or even possibly having been relegated to the minority for the 112th Congress. They have yet to tackle immigration reform, climate change and so-called card-check legislation on union organizing, a bill that’s strongly opposed by Republicans.

 Another major issue: the George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at year’s end. Because of the political difficulty of tackling tax rates, it seems likely the issue will be taken up only after voters have weighed in at the ballot box.  

GOP leaders and conservative activists have increasingly warned that Democrats, who seem likely to lose seats in both the House and Senate, could use the year-end session to ram through big-ticket legislative items that probably wouldn’t pass once the new Congress is seated in January.

 Led by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Republicans on Tuesday called on voters to pressure rank-and-file Democrats to swear off doing just that.

Boehner asked Democratic members’ constituents to use town hall meetings and other opportunities during the August recess to confront them on their post-election legislative plans.

 “We should all be calling on the Democrats to pledge that they won’t do this,” the minority leader said at his weekly press availability. “I encourage you to echo this at home, especially if you share a media market with a Democrat. Put them on record.”

 Republicans’ concerns draw on vague language by Democratic leaders as to whether they’ll use a lame-duck session to push through remaining priorities, many of which have stalled because of deficit worries in their own ranks as well as because of GOP opposition.

 “We’re going to have to have a lame-duck session, so we’re not giving up,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at the weekend Netroots Nation conference of liberal bloggers, in reference to Democrats’ unfinished priorities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the need for such a session depends on how much work lawmakers get done before the elections.

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has suggested the card-check bill, or Employee Free Choice Act, might be prime to move in a lame-duck session.

 Bill Samuel, the legislative director for the AFL-CIO, said that the union had no specific agenda — from card-check to jobs bills — in mind for lawmakers for any such session, but that it would press lawmakers to work actively through the period.

 “Assuming we’re still facing a jobs crisis, and other critical economic concerns that need to be addressed, we will be pressing Congress to use the time that they’re in session to make progress,” he said. “America can’t afford to have Congress meet for six weeks and leave these problems unaddressed.”

 Van Hollen suggested such a session was unnecessary because Democrats had already accomplished a lot this year.

“I don’t expect to see a lot of major legislation [in] the lame-duck session,” he said. “As you well know, we’ve passed an awful lot of legislation in the House and the Senate, and much of it has reached the president’s desk.”

Van Hollen’s statements are consistent with those of Vice President Joe Biden, who recently said “the heavy lifting is over,” referencing the Obama administration’s legislative agenda in this Congress.

 Samuel interpreted the Maryland Democrat’s remarks more as a way to tamp down Republican criticism than a warning to supporters to lower their expectations.

 “My assumption is that he’s sort of responding to fear-mongering by Republicans,” Samuel said.

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