Dem lame-duck agenda shrinking fast after Election Day 'shellacking'

Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day.

Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas.

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In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a “shellacking” of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.

“I’m very pessimistic we’ll get much done,” said a labor official familiar with lame-duck negotiations. “We’re focused on extending unemployment benefits and middle-class tax cuts.”

“Republicans will try to put off everything so they can claim credit for anything that passes at the beginning of the new Congress,” said the source.

“I expect a short-term continuing resolution into the new year,” the source said, in reference to a temporary funding measure to keep the federal government in operation.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other GOP leaders have made clear that they’re in no mood to help advance the Democratic legislative agenda.

“We will stop the liberal onslaught,” McConnell declared in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation.

During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, McConnell signaled that Republicans would not agree to an extension of middle-class tax relief that allowed rates to increase for families and businesses earning over $250,000 a year.

“We don't think raising taxes on small business is a good idea,” he said in reference to President Obama’s plan to extend current tax rates only for the middle class. “You can't do what he's suggesting you might do without having a small-business tax increase.

“We're willing to start talking about getting an extension of some kind so that taxes don't go up on anybody."

Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said Republicans will only allow bills with broad consensus to pass.

“Nothing that has anything terribly controversial,” he said, adding that the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would be considered controversial.

“In a lame duck, typically we pass only things that expire at the end of the year,” he said.

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush expire at the end of the year. A stopgap spending measure funding government will run out on Dec. 3, and extended federal unemployment insurance benefits will begin to expire at the end of November.

Lawmakers must also deal with a scheduled cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements that will go into effect before the end of the year.

Senators will return to Washington the week of Nov. 15 to hold leadership elections and a series of votes to cut off debate on three bills: the Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act; the Paycheck Fairness Act; and the Food Safety Modernization Act.

But typically it takes at least a week to surmount all the procedural hurdles necessary to pass a bill. It’s unclear how Democratic leaders plan to pass the natural gas and electric vehicles bill and paycheck bill and move immediately to food safety legislation.

Senate GOP aides say the votes on the vehicles and paycheck bills are “show votes” and that Democratic leaders do not intend to complete them.

The Senate is scheduled to recess for Thanksgiving by Friday, Nov. 19, and then return in session the week of Nov. 29.

That gives Democrats a total of four weeks until Christmas Eve.

Lawmakers voted on Christmas Eve last year to pass the healthcare reform bill. There might not be much appetite to stay in session so late this year, especially after Democrats suffered such a big setback at the polls on Tuesday.

Before the election, Democratic and Republican leaders were discussing the possibility of a two-week session after Thanksgiving.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to discuss the lame-duck agenda during a conference call with reporters last week.

He said he would have “a number of meetings with the [Senate Democratic] caucus” before discussing specifics of the legislative plan for November and December.

Reid held a conference call with Senate Democratic colleagues on Wednesday, during which they decided to focus “like a laser” on passing middle-class tax cuts, he told reporters.


Reid has also assured constituents that he would bring up the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant legal residency to the children of illegal immigrants if they met certain requirements. During an interview on Univision shortly before Election Day, Reid pledged to bring up the bill whether he won or lost reelection.

Reid also promised to bring up a bill granting collective bargaining rights to police officers and firefighters, according to labor sources.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, has pledged action on legislation addressing what lawmakers call Chinese currency manipulation.

But given the Senate’s slow legislative pace and the multiple procedural hurdles that even routine legislation faces, it’s far from clear that there will be enough time to pass more than a few bills.

Reid has even expressed doubt about passing the defense authorization bill, which is usually considered must-pass legislation.

The defense bill has passed annually since 1952, according to Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). But this year it may not.

“The problem with the defense authorization bill is that it takes a while to get it done,” Reid said last week.