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Lame Duck Legislation

The lame duck session, which began on Monday and is expected to last until mid-December (with a week-long Thanksgiving break), is the Democrats’ last chance to pass legislation while commanding majorities in both the House and Senate. And with plenty of defeated Democrats risking little by casting controversial votes, there’s a chance some liberal legislation might be able to squeak through.  Here’s a rundown on some bills Congress will likely consider in the upcoming weeks:

The Bush tax cuts. Both parties want the tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, extended for those couples making under $250,000 a year; the point of contention is whether to extend them for those making more. President Obama is scheduled to meet with Democrat and Republican congressional leaders on November 30 to discuss the cuts. Potential compromises include extending the tax cuts for the wealthy for just a couple of years, while making the other tax cuts permanent, and extending the tax cuts for those who make under, but not over, $1 million a year.

Unemployment benefits. If Congress doesn’t act, federal unemployment benefits — which kick in after the 26 weeks of benefits most states provide, and can help the unemployed get as many as 99 weeks of benefits — will start expiring November 30. Some Democrats, including Illinois senator Dick Durbin, have suggested that Democrats agree to pass all the Bush tax cuts if the Republicans agree to extend unemployment benefits.  

The DREAM Act.  It’s back. The bill, various forms of which have been considered by congress for nearly a decade (most recently when Reid attempted to attach it to a defense-authorization bill in September), would allow illegal immigrants younger than 35, who came to the U.S. when they were 16 or younger, to gain legal status if they agreed to spend two years in college or the military. Opponents object that the legislation could serve as backdoor amnesty (if the youth eventually gain citizenship, they can sponsor their relatives for immigration), while proponents say it’s unfair to penalize these young adults didn’t choose to illegally enter the country. Politico reported that President Obama spoke to congressional Democrats yesterday and pushed for passage of the bill, calling it a “down payment” on comprehensive immigration reform.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Currently, the defense-authorization bill includes a repeal of DADT. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), indicated yesterday that he would be willing to spin off the repeal into a separate bill. While the the Pentagon isn’t scheduled to release a report on the impact of repealing DADT until December 1, defense secretary Robert Gates already said in early November he wants a repeal to pass in the lame duck session.


Spending. None of the twelve annual spending bills have been passed yet, although fiscal year 2011 began on October 1. Currently, the government has been funded by a stop-gap resolution that expires December 3. Congress could decide to pass another such resolution, or they could try to pass the actual bills. But it’s likely that Democrats and Republicans will strongly disagree on how high spending levels should be set, making the bills’ passage potentially contentious.

New START treaty. President Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton are pushing for the treaty to be passed during the lame duck session; Clinton told lawmakers today that the treaty was not “an issue that can afford to be postponed.” Yesterday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) issued a statement against considering START in the lame duck session, citing “the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization.” (Kyl has said that the treaty should be modified to include modernization of our nuclear weapons.)

Food safety. While a bill passed the House last year, the Senate just today approved a cloture motion (which ensures the bill won’t be filibustered). The legislation would give the FDA increased power and ability to monitor and regulate food production. Proponents say it would help make sure that unsafe food didn’t make it to consumers; opponents, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), protest the bill’s $1.4 billion price tag and argue that the new regulation will hurt small farmers.

Also up for consideration are the Doc Fix bill (which would have Congress overruling the 23 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors that’s supposed to kick in December 1) and giving 58 million Social Security recipients a one-time $250 check, since their benefits will not be increasing this year.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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