Congressional lame duck session–the home stretch

Congressional lame duck session–the home stretch

Congress begins what could be the last week of the lame duck session highly focused on these main legislative actions:  1) extending the Bush tax cuts; 2) extending emergency unemployment payments; 3) passing the new Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START); and 4) passing an FY2011 appropriations bill in some form.  The stage for the time remaining was set last week when the President and congressional Republican leadership reached an agreement on extending tax cuts, and the House passed a year-long continuing appropriations bill for FY2011.  The agreement to extend the so-called “Bush era” tax cuts for two years for all levels of income also extends emergency unemployment benefits (which had already begun to expire) for 13 months.  The plan, which is expected to cost almost $900 billion, also reduces the payroll tax (for social security) from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent in 2011 for all workers’ earnings up to $106,800, sets the estate tax maximum rate at 35 percent for two years with a $5 million per person exemption, adjusts the alternative minimum tax (AMT), and includes a number of tax breaks for business.  The Senate is scheduled to proceed on the tax cut deal this afternoon and could finish by tomorrow night.  It is not yet clear whether the House will take up a Senate-passed bill without amending it or move to make changes and force a conference.  The House Democratic caucus continues to press for changes.  The administration and congressional supporters still believe that the Senate will pass the START treaty before adjournment and are pressing for quick action.  However, many Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John Kyle (D-AZ), want a full debate on the treaty before a vote is taken.  The final major action required for the lame duck congress is on FY2011 appropriations.  The current continuing resolution (CR) runs out on Saturday, December 18.  When the House-passed FY2011 continuing appropriations bill (essentially a year-long CR) gets to the Senate this week, Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI), chair of the Senate Appropriation Committee is expected substitute a FY2011 omnibus appropriations bill combining all 12 appropriations bills.  But what happens after that is up in the air.  Will Congress pass an omnibus appropriations bill, a year-long continuing resolution, or simply pass a short-term CR into next year to allow the new Congress to make the final decisions?  It is all about time.  And the time for the 111th Congress is running out.

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