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Clock Winds Down on Democratic Dominance in Congress

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As members of Congress return to Capitol Hill on Monday for the final leg of the lame-duck session, they do so knowing that the next several weeks represent the last days of dominance for Democrats in Washington for the foreseeable future.

Unlike the first two years of the Obama administration, when the president's party wielded huge majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats now face a future without the chairmanships of key committees in the House or the votes in either chamber to pass bills without significant bipartisan support.

With their power slipping away, Democrats are now weighing which base-pleasing issues -- such as immigration and gay rights -- will get precious time on the legislative calendar, and which others must be shelved indefinitely. Complicating that calculation is a host of time-sensitive and high-priced items, like an extension of unemployment benefits and the expiring Bush tax cuts, that Congress must either pass now or allow to expire.

Harry Reid, Lame duck sessionTo add insult to injury for the Democrats, the House this week will vote on whether to censure Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) for his 11 violations of House rules, while the Senate will swear in Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, the Republican from Illinois, to take over President Obama's prized Senate seat and give Republicans a crucial added vote in the upper chamber.

With time winding down and deadlines looming, here are the issues that lame-duck Congress will consider:

- Funding the Federal Government. Congress must act on a "continuing resolution" before Dec. 4 to continue to fund the government at current spending levels or risk a government shutdown. With none of the 12 appropriations bills passed, Democrats and Republicans will also have to come to an agreement about passing all of the measures together in a massive omnibus bill or pass a temporary spending measure that would allow the next Congress to take it up in 2011.

- The Bush Tax Cuts. The Bush-era tax cuts that Democrats describe as a "time bomb" will return to 2001 levels (as the legislation originally called for) unless Congress acts this month. Republicans and some Democrats want all of the tax cuts -- including those on income, estates and dividends, as well as the child tax credit, the marriage penalty and the Alternative Minimum Tax -- to remain at today's rates permanently for all income levels, while the White House and top Democrats are pushing to keep the cuts only for families making less than $250,000 a year. A deadlock in Congress means all taxes will go up.

- Unemployment Benefits. People out of work for 26 weeks or longer won't get unemployment checks after Tuesday without Congressional action. Republicans say they'll approve them if they're paid for with cuts elsewhere in the government, a choice Democrats have resisted all year.

- Medicare Payments for Doctors, The House will vote Monday on keeping payments for doctors treating Medicare patients at current levels instead of letting doctors' rates drop by a double-digit percentage, as they're scheduled to do this week. The Senate will take it up later in the session, but Republicans are expected to balk at the multi-billion-dollar price tag of the temporary bill.

- The DREAM Act: Look for action Wednesday on the DREAM Act, a bill that would give young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they complete two years of college or two years in the military. The DREAM Act has become a top priority for the Latino community this year as it became clear that comprehensive immigration reform would not be politically viable. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid campaigned for re-election, he promised immigration activists that he would bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a vote this year.

- Don't Ask Don't Tell. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has led the charge against the portion of the defense authorization bill that would begin to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military. McCain has demanded congressional hearings on the Pentagon report about the issue, which will be released Tuesday. To appease McCain, the Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on Thursday and Friday of this week. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted Sunday that the issue and the Defense bill won't make it through Congress this year. "It's not going anywhere," Graham said.

- START Treaty. President Obama has called the nuclear reduction treaty with Russia his top foreign policy priority for the lame-duck session, but a major push from the White House has done nothing to ease opposition from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. Without Kyl's support, Obama won't get the treaty approved by the Senate this year, forcing him to restart START negotiations in the next Congress.

The House and Senate gavel into session on Monday, and leaders say they'll stay in Washington until their work is done.
Filed Under: The Capitolist

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43 Comments

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Kenneth

Their is no way that Reid will be able to get any of his agenda through the senate during this lame duck session. They just swore in the senator from Illinois today a republican to fill Obama's empty seat. That only gives them 58 votes when they need sixty. I really do not see him even getting the support from the 58 with some being voted out and others a little gun shy after this Novembers shellacking.

November 29 2010 at 11:39 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
lars140e

This article makes a mistake, when it says anyone who has already received 26 weeks or more of unemployment benefits, will not receive any more benefits after tomorrow (Tuesday), unless congress approves an extension. I wish the author would do their homework. The fact is if you are already in a tier and receiving benefits, you will receive all the remaining weeks in that tier, which for many unemployed, will last way past Tuesday.

November 29 2010 at 5:43 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
sammykat77

this is a good thing.....

November 29 2010 at 5:34 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
razaminaz

They can save a lot of money by discontinuing payment to the congress and senate people that are voted out or leave on their own. They can serve 2 years and be paid full salary and benefits until they die, and it they have a surviving spouse they keep the pay and benefits. I would love to have a job where I got fired (voted out) and still get everything I was getting and be on permanent vacation. They should also consider the cost of living raises they are giving themselves, but none to the retired people on social security.

November 29 2010 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
prn13norm

Goodbye Liberal Democrats and Good Riddance!

November 29 2010 at 3:45 PM Report abuse +37 rate up rate down Reply
nokabosh

The Dream act has so many things wrong with it they are too many to list here. It can't possibly be adminstered. Anyone who wants to game it can. It opens the door to mass illegal immigration by millions of people. Just what the dems want to increase their voter base.

November 29 2010 at 3:27 PM Report abuse +40 rate up rate down Reply
altollew

gotta love our Senator from Michigan doing what she does best getting position A at the photo ops. She is the one in blue from a soon to be red state.

November 29 2010 at 2:54 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
nokabosh

The dems who got voted out will vote for the bad bills just out of spite. Those dems up for election in 2012 will not support Pelosi and Reid. That may be enough to keep the worst of the bills from passing in the lame duck session.

November 29 2010 at 2:52 PM Report abuse +30 rate up rate down Reply
gr8bsn

No single party, left or right should have as much control as the Democrats had for the last two years. Controlling all three branches of government, the government was literally stripped of all checks and balances. If you think that a government should operate without checks and balances in place, there are still some monarchies and dictatorships left in the world. Here's to a balanced and reasonable government!

November 29 2010 at 2:49 PM Report abuse +31 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to gr8bsn's comment
swf37amy

thank god i left the republican party years ago. they do not speak for me or mine.

November 29 2010 at 2:35 PM Report abuse -36 rate up rate down Reply

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