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Lame Duck: What and When?

By Steve Bell, Ashley Ridlon

Monday, November 14, 2016

The lame-duck session of Congress begins with an atmosphere radically different than what had been the conventional wisdom before the election. The pundits and lobbyists expected a Hillary Clinton victory, a Democratic Senate, and a loss of 20 or so Republican seats in the House.

Faced with a new reality, with what needs to be done in the lame duck and when, would a long laundry list of “wants” get consideration?

One “must do” is the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2017. The present continuing resolution (CR) for appropriations for FY17 expires December 9. Questions the Senate and House leadership will now consider are these: will Congress pass the 12 spending bills individually, in three or four “minibus” vehicles, simply extend the present CR until March, pass a full fiscal year CR, or some combination of those alternatives in the form of what is called a “cromnibus”?

Complicating matters are the positions taken by party leaders pre-election and how those positions may have changed with the GOP sweep.

Complicating matters are the positions taken by party leaders pre-election and how those positions may have changed with the GOP sweep. While House Speaker Paul Ryan wanted a series of small “minibuses” before the election, he may now want a full-year CR, clearing the way for the new president to present his own budget next March.

Facebook Live: What is on the docket in the final days of the 114th Congress?

House Democrats must now recalculate their positions, but Democratic leaders seem likely to continue to insist on equal treatment for non-defense programs if the $11.6 billion defense supplemental appropriation measure just sent to Congress by the president is included in any spending vehicle. And, some GOP House members object to anything other than a CR at present levels.

With what needs to be done in the lame duck and when, would a long laundry list of “wants” get consideration? 

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he would like the 12 individual bills completed. Realistically that seems a very hard pull, especially if Republicans insist that the present sequester caps stay as lids on spending. Individual bills would probably exhaust all of the time between now and December 9, leaving very little room for any other measures on the Senate floor.

In any event, we expect no final action before late in the day on December 8, and predict, with trepidation, that the final outcome will be a CR that includes the defense supplemental and monies for the Flint, Michigan, water problem; the floods in Texas and Louisiana; and the hurricane damage in North Carolina.

Other legislation that might squeeze into the “must do“ category are the Defense Authorization Act, now hung up in conference between the House and Senate, the 21st Century Cures Act, funding for opioid addiction legislation enacted this summer, and a mental health reform bill—although disagreements over funding levels, offsets, and gun provisions could stall these efforts, not to mention political posturing over the GOP’s plans to repeal and replace Obamacare early next year.

Will Congress, having heard the American electorate’s frustrations with Washington, muster the political will to work together?

Funding of retiree health and pension benefits for employees in the coal mining industry is also at stake if legislation addressing it fails to pass during the lame duck, coupled with the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, which seeks to improve access to pooled employer retirement plans.

The “want to do” list includes passage of the Water Resources Development Act (which is the vehicle first chosen for the Flint legislation) and cyber security reforms.

Also pending are approximately $19 billion in tax extenders, including renewable energy tax credits that were left out of last year’s tax extender measure – a heavy lift for a lame-duck agenda that may have narrowed in scope since the election.

With an ambitious to-do list and limited time in the lame duck, many of these items (short of at least a temporary CR into early next year) remain in question. Will Congress, having heard the American electorate’s frustrations with Washington, muster the political will to work together? Will there be an appetite to clear the decks of the must-do and want-to-do items? Or will we see more gridlock and punting to next year’s agenda? Perhaps it is time to put the vitriol of the election behind us and find a constructive path forward on these issues with bipartisan momentum.

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, FY 2017, HILLARY CLINTON, MITCH MCCONNELL, NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT, PAUL RYAN