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What to Expect During the Lame Duck

Wednesday, October 8, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lindsey Johnson
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It’s a strange environment on Capitol Hill when members and staff return to work immediately following the Nov. 2 elections. Several Senators and Representatives will have lost their seats, returning to the Hill to wait out the Lame Duck period and begin the process of closing up their D.C. offices. Staffers will initiate the hunt for new jobs. But despite the impending changeover, it’s expected that work must continue. And even with the soon-to-be changing of the political guard, the atmosphere on the floor typically remains collegial.

For House and Senate leadership, discussions about the post-election agenda began as soon as Congress left town for the final six weeks on the campaign trail. Planning gives staff something to do, but it also gives members information to reassure constituents back home that there’s still time to get things done before year’s end.

Regardless of rhetoric from both parties during the election, nothing will happen on major initiatives like tax reform or immigration before 2015; there’s simply not enough time. These issues require a fresh Congress. History shows that the typical work product of the Lame Duck falls neatly into two categories: The "necessary” and the "noncontroversial.” Atop the "necessary” list sits that task which Congress typically must tackle first: Spending. At present, most of the federal government is operating on autopilot towards a "continuing resolution.” It’s quite possible that the Lame Duck session simply extends these current spending levels through next year. The more likely outcome — and the current plans among Hill staff — will be an "omnibus” spending bill, combining all annual spending measures that were never addressed during the year.

Lame Duck or not, big spending bills almost always contain their share of pork; but with the budget agreement in place for the 2015 fiscal year, fixed caps on total spending will limit damage to your pocketbooks. Both political parties have incentives to get the work done as cleanly as possible.

The intense gridlock of the past year suggests that "noncontroversial” measures would be few and far between; however, there are a couple Congress may consider next year. Example: Congress may extend a collection of tax measures ranging from tax credits for the renewable fuel subsidy to a supplemental appropriation for our fight against terrorism.

In the end, it’s not much of a list. December should be the lamest Lame Duck session in many years.