Lame duck session must deal with spending bills, tax relief
Friday, November 10th 2006, 6:17 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nobody likes a lame-duck session of Congress, particularly the election losers who won't be around for the next session.
Republicans, who lost control of both the House and the Senate in Tuesday's election, would like nothing better than to wrap up their work for the year and go home.
But there will probably be no quick escape this year. There are must-pass spending bills to complete, tax relief measures that have expired and a new defense secretary to confirm. It could keep lawmakers in Washington until just before Christmas.
President Bush and the newly ascendant Democrats agreed that this Congress should knuckle down on unfinished legislation.
Bush, after meeting with congressional Republican leaders Thursday, urged Congress to pass spending bills, come together on pending offshore drilling legislation, act to legalize his warrantless eavesdropping program and approve a U.S.-India nuclear pact.
"That means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones," he said.
Bush, who is leaving next week for a trip to Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, also pressed for action on a bill to give Vietnam permanent normal trade relations.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who will become majority leader in January, wrote to the current majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist, outlining similar goals for the lame-duck session.
He also cited the need to pass a package of tax relief provisions that expired at the beginning of the year but which Congress has been unable to renew because of efforts to link the popular provisions to controversial bills unacceptable to one side or the other.
Lawmakers return on Monday for a busy week that includes orientation for the freshmen, dominated by Democrats, who will be sworn in when the 110th Congress begins in January. Both parties in the House and Senate will also elect new leaders for the next Congress, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose re-election as Democratic leader will put her in line to become the first woman Speaker.
The House is expected to take up the Vietnam bill early in the week, with hopes that the Senate will approve it as well while the president is in the Far East.
More problematic are the spending bills. Congress has so far passed only two of 11 spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, for defense and homeland security programs. It has yet to deal with all other domestic programs, worth some $460 billion.
In the House, Republican leaders are leaning toward passing a bill, known as a continuing resolution, that would fund federal programs at the 2006 budget year levels into January.
That would shift the burden of dealing with these bills to the Democrats at a time when they are moving into the majority and trying to launch action on their agenda.
The eavesdropping measure sought by Bush stalled in the Senate because of a Democratic filibuster threat. And another presidential priority, winning confirmation of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also faces probably insurmountable obstacles in the Senate.
Bolton has held the post on a temporary basis for more than a year. If opposition to his confirmation continues, he would have to leave the job in January.
Prospects are better for confirmation of former CIA Director Robert Gates to succeed Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. Hearings are tentatively scheduled for early December, when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving break, with a goal of a Senate vote before the end of the year.
The tax relief legislation, supported by both parties, includes deductions for state and local sales taxes and student tuition, plus business tax credits for research and development.
Efforts to extend the breaks stalled before the election when GOP leaders tried to link the extensions to lower taxes on multimillion-dollar estates and the promise of a minimum wage increase pushed by Democrats.
One possibility is combining the tax proposals with a measure to overturn billions of dollars in Medicare payment cuts to doctors now scheduled to begin in January.
In an unpleasant reminder of the problems that contributed to Republican losses at the polls, the House ethics committee is expected to report soon on how GOP leaders handled the case of former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., and sexually charged computer messages he sent to former male pages. The report could have harsh things to say about Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who announced Wednesday he will step down as his party's leader when the Democrats take over in January.