Congress Back for Lame-Duck Session

Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill today for round two of the lame-duck session of Congress, with some talk that the work won’t be complete until the week of Christmas. High on the agenda: fiscal year 2011 spending, expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, tax incentives (including those for biofuels), the food safety bill and expiring unemployment benefits.

Let’s look at each of these to-do measures, one at a time.

One thing that Congress MUST do, is pass a spending bill that will keep the government operating past December 4th. This will most likely be done using a Continuing Resolution that will continue to fund the government at current levels.

The problem with this is that spending levels are at record highs.

Presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is already on record that he thinks Congress should dial back spending to 2008 levels. It’s unclear whether Boehner has the appetite to force the issue over the CR. But a Boehner spokesman says Republicans certainly won’t help Democrats pass any sort of omnibus bill to fund the government for the next fiscal year.

This may force congress to pass all twelve annual spending bills that they have failed to act on this year. That means both houses of Congress must okay each of them individually (and convince the president to sign them into law).

The next major battle will be over tax cuts.

Since summer, Republicans and some Democrats have demanded that Congress renew all of the tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year. But Democrats are reluctant to do that. In fact, the House Democratic leadership is steadfast in its desire to limit tax reductions to those who make only up to $250,000 annually.

President Barack Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss taxes. “There will be bipartisan support in the lame duck to extend all the tax cuts for two or three years, and I think that vote will be had before the end of the year,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “And if the president doesn’t support that, I think he’s running a risk of making the economy weaker.”

Expect the tax cut debate to be a pitched battle that will echo well into next year and the 2012 elections.

Finally , there is a laundry list of measures that Democrats would like to see passed before the new Republican House convenes in January.

Democrats would like to try to move the DREAM Act. Short for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the legislation that would allow illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to stay in the U.S. if they are in college or the military.

There is also a push to pass a food safety bill that would be detrimental to the entire ag industry, hurting smaller producers the most.

We will keep you abreast of what’s happening in D.C. during the remainder of this lame-duck session. Stay tuned.

For more on what to expect over the next couple of weeks, read about it here.

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