As Bills Pile Up, Congress Starts Contemplating a Lame Duck

After the July 4 recess, only 28 legislative days will be left to address a mountain of unfinished business.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speaks at a press conference on immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2013. 
National Journal
Billy House
Add to Briefcase
Billy House
June 17, 2014, 5:25 p.m.

It may only be June jit­ters, but mur­murs of a po­ten­tially busy and rauc­ous con­gres­sion­al lame-duck ses­sion in Novem­ber and Decem­ber are already build­ing as un­fin­ished work stacks up and le­gis­lat­ive days be­fore the Nov. 4 elec­tions dwindle.

When law­makers break June 26 for their In­de­pend­ence Day re­cess, they will have just 28 sched­uled work days left in Wash­ing­ton be­fore voters go to the polls to de­cide the makeup of the new Con­gress that will con­vene in Janu­ary.

But the stack of un­re­solved le­gis­la­tion in this Con­gress is grow­ing high­er and high­er, in­clud­ing a bill to re­new dozens of tax breaks that ex­pired last Decem­ber and the full ar­ray of ap­pro­pri­ations bills for the new fisc­al year start­ing on Oct. 1. De­cisions are also needed on mis­cel­laneous tar­iffs, ter­ror­ism risk in­sur­ance, the Trade Ad­just­ment As­sist­ance pro­gram, re­char­ter­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, re­plen­ish­ing the High­way Trust Fund, and passing a new sur­face-trans­port­a­tion bill.

“We’ve got to start get­ting things done,” said House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er on Tues­day, con­ced­ing that a busy postelec­tion scen­ario in Novem­ber and Decem­ber is emer­ging.

But even then, Hoy­er said, law­makers’ abil­ity to ac­com­plish things as the lame-duck Con­gress serves out its fi­nal weeks at year’s end could be in doubt, “de­pend­ing on the out­come of the elec­tion.”

Any postelec­tion mix of activ­ity must also in­clude a full slate of lead­er­ship elec­tions for both parties, which could them­selves prove to be frac­tious and con­sum­ing. And then there’s the wild card of a po­ten­tial Re­pub­lic­an takeover of the Sen­ate if the midterms go their way.

Wheth­er a shift in Sen­ate con­trol would in­spire more lame-duck ac­tion or push more de­cisions in­to the next Con­gress is already a top­ic of early spec­u­la­tion. On the one hand, Sen­ate Demo­crats would want to ex­er­cise their ma­jor­ity powers be­fore be­com­ing the minor­ity, but some might want to hand off a few le­gis­lat­ive head­aches to the GOP.

Fi­nally, there are ques­tions about wheth­er an­oth­er loom­ing debt-ceil­ing crisis and nervous­ness about it on Wall Street could im­pact lame-duck pos­tur­ing. Con­gress reached agree­ment early this year on sus­pend­ing a stat­utory cap on the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row money to pay its bills, but only through March 16, 2015.

At this point, there’s more than a month’s worth of le­gis­lat­ive days to deal with un­fin­ished busi­ness. But up­com­ing breaks after law­makers re­turn to Wash­ing­ton on Ju­ly 8 in­clude the en­tire month of Au­gust, half of Septem­ber, and all but two days of Oc­to­ber — a crazy-quilt sched­ule for the re­main­ing days of this Con­gress.

While Hoy­er is press­ing for a stepped-up pace of ac­tion on le­gis­lat­ive items he says need to be ad­dressed, there was no re­sponse Tues­day from the of­fice of Eric Can­tor, whose role as ma­jor­ity lead­er will end Ju­ly 31.

Here are some early pre­dic­tions from oth­er law­makers and seni­or le­gis­lat­ive aides of how ac­tion on vari­ous bills will play out:

  • Agree­ment is ex­pec­ted by the House and Sen­ate on ex­tend­ing some of the ex­pired tax pro­vi­sions, but not un­til the lame-duck ses­sion. It re­mains un­clear which ones will be re­newed.
  • Ap­prov­al is also ex­pec­ted be­fore the Au­gust re­cess for at least some short-term ex­ten­sions of both the High­way Trust Fund (which is ex­pec­ted to reach a zero bal­ance in late Ju­ly) and a sur­face-trans­port­a­tion bill (which ex­pires Sept. 30). But in­tense de­bate con­tin­ues over how to pay for re­plen­ish­ing the high­way fund be­fore it goes dry dur­ing the height of the sum­mer con­struc­tion sea­son.
  • “Ob­vi­ously,” Hoy­er says, not all of the 12 an­nu­al spend­ing bills will be passed be­fore the Oct. 1 start of the new fisc­al year. Most on the Hill see the House and Sen­ate even­tu­ally tak­ing up some type of om­ni­bus pack­age with sev­er­al of the fin­ished bills tied to­geth­er, and also en­act­ing a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to keep all gov­ern­ment agen­cies run­ning un­til after the elec­tion.
  • Re­char­ter­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank is seen as more likely after the elec­tion, al­though its cur­rent charter ex­pires on Sept. 30. The little-known bank makes tax­pay­er-backed loans to help over­seas en­tit­ies buy U.S. products. But many con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeb Hensarling, op­pose its re­char­ter­ing. Even so, the bank won’t close its doors on Sept. 30 even if that dead­line is missed.
What We're Following See More »
ASSAILS FORMER PRESIDENT, STAFF
Trump: Obama Likely Behind Leaks
23 minutes ago
THE LATEST
PARTY UNITY
Perez to Be Ellison’s Guest at Trump’s Speech
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Only three days removed from their race for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship, Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez are burying the hatchet at President Trump's address to Congress. Late Monday afternoon, Ellison announced that Perez, who defeated him for the DNC job, will be his guest at the speech. "I look forward to joining Keith in the days and months ahead to show the American people that we stand with them against Donald Trump and his billionaire boys club that couldn't care less about the plight of working people," said Perez.

WOULD HAVE BROUGHT MORE WATERWAYS UNDER FEDERAL CONTROL
Trump to Sign Order Undoing Obama Water Rule
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS
RSC OPPOSITION
House Conservatives Balk on Obamacare Replacement
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee said Monday he would vote against a draft ObamaCare replacement bill that leaked last week. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), head of the 172-member committee, said Monday his opposition stems from the draft bill's use of refundable tax credits." He said the current plan simply "kicks the can down the road" rather than attempt any real reform.

Source:
ENLISTS THEIR HELP IN REPEAL/REPLACE
Trump Meets with Health Execs
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login