Hill braces for lame-duck frenzy
Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer - July 24, 2012
Tax rates, spending cuts and the deficit will dominate the Capitol this fall, but lawmakers and lobbyists are quietly maneuvering to use the lame-duck session to clean up a whole mess of other issues that Congress has been unable — or unwilling — to handle.
First there’s the United States Postal Service, which will default on $11 billion worth of health care retirement payments in August. Negotiations are under way to patch its finances during the lame-duck session.
K Street and Capitol Hill are also moving closer than ever before to a deal to legalize online gaming — something that’s long simmered on the back burner but that may pass in the lame duck. Congress also may extend parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expire at the end of 2012.
Welfare programs are also on the block: Extending parts of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families may not get done until after the election, even though some programs expire at the end of September.
This diffuse set of bills and expiring deadlines has created a behind-the-scenes frenzy as lobbyists and lawmakers try to set in motion a few deals despite the gridlock that has dominated the 112th Congress.
The action may extend to other fronts, like the Dodd-Frank financial law — lawmakers and lobbyists have spotted opportunity to repeal a provision in the law that forces banks to transfer derivatives trades out of their shops.
Most of the movement is so preliminary that few key players are willing to talk about it on the record. Many of these items could be slipped into larger legislation, outside public view while Washington deals with the frenzy of finding compromise on tax rates for every American. Much hinges on the election — the landscape for legislative victories will change significantly depending on the outcome of November.
But inside the Capitol, there’s an increasing desire to pick off a bunch of legislative wins. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can hardly make his way across the House floor these days without being bombarded by Republicans who want their priority pushed before the 112th Congress ends.
But House leaders are warning that they can’t do everything that’s punted to a lame duck. Aides in both chambers say Congress will be swamped at the end of the year — making each issue an uphill climb.
All told, the lame duck is shaping up to be one of the most significant sessions in recent history.
Here’s what expires at the end of the year: marginal tax rates for every American, the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients, the alternative minimum tax, the debt ceiling and unemployment insurance. Not to mention automatic spending cuts for the Pentagon and other domestic programs go into effect next year. Plus, House Republican leadership appears to be setting itself up to pass a funding resolution that keeps the government open until the end of 2012 — which will require Congress to deal with spending bills at the end of the year, as well.
The uptick in lobbying and negotiating on a series of peripheral issues underscores the reality of this Congress so far: Nothing is getting done. Just look at the month of July, during which the House has spent much of its time on a series of politically hot votes on defense spending, regulation, taxes and health care. Leadership has been rebuffing attempts to move a farm bill and to reform the Postal Service.
“Ultimately, we thought we’d be doing it during September or the lame duck,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose Oversight and Government Reform Committee is charged with the nation’s postal system.
But instead of reforming the Postal Service — which Democrats and Republicans agree they must do — Congress will most likely just pass a one-year patch.
“They don’t have the votes to pass it,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said of Issa’s postal reform bill, which is opposed by unions. “And it’s Issa’s fault.” Issa maintains that he’s working on a long-term bill with the Senate.
The Senate isn’t much better. The chamber has yet to pass a single appropriations bill — a failure that has stalled items lawmakers hoped would ride alongside the spending legislation.
Tactically, leaders in both chambers don’t have many options. The House has only 19 days in session before the November election. Republican leaders have told members who have legislative priorities that the floor schedule is largely set.
That’s why people are eyeing the lame duck. There’s even some thought that Congress could jam through a five-year farm bill then — though nothing’s been settled on that front.
The story of how online gambling might be tackled this Congress underscores the complex negotiations to get things done.
Opponents to the bill — including professional sports associations and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — have softened their opposition, according to sources involved in the negotiations.
While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have been moving toward an agreement to legalize online gaming — many states have pre-empted them and moved on their own. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is still opposed, making an immediate agreement elusive. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is facing a tough race in November against Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, has been tasked with finding Republican votes for the bill. He has been unable to so far, according to sources involved in the negotiations.
Onlookers know that the ground is softening — and the hurry of the lame duck could be the perfect opportunity.
“I think there’s a lot of reason to believe why there should be a bill done sooner than later,” Poker Players Alliance head John Pappas said. “Even those in Congress who are opposed to Internet gaming recognize to do nothing would only worsen the problem.”
This is a very interesting article. I notice that the once hot issue of immigration reform is not even mentioned let alone the highly touted proposed “Irish E-3 Visa Program” which seeks to create 10,500 “non-immigrant temporary work permits” annually. It appears that this proposed legislation is probably not even in the “pecking order” of bills to be dealt with in the current legislative session. This should come as no great surprise with the rate of unemployment remaining at above 8 percent. Irish immigration activists would be far better off to concentrate their efforts on trying to resolve the immigration status of our undocumented Irish nationals currently residing here in the U.S. and contributing to our economy.
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America