Congress returns next week to complete legislative action in the shadow of last week’s election. Republicans gained control of the House with an increase of least 60 seats. Democrats maintained control in the Senate, but saw their majority shrink by six seats. So, as Democrats prepare the agenda for the final actions of the 111th Congress, House Republicans will hold leadership elections for the 112th Congress. The main questions for the Democrats are: how long will the “lame duck” session last and what legislation can they finish. If Congress stays in session until the end of December, they have seven weeks to work. If it only stays until the Continuing Resolution (CR) expires, they only have two weeks. In any case, there is not enough time left to complete what is a very large list of competing legislative priorities.
FY2011 appropriations bills: The most pressing priority is passing FY2011 appropriations. The current CR keeps the government running until December 3. To date the full House has passed only two appropriations bills (Military Construction/VA and Transportation/HUD). The remaining 10 bills have not yet reached the House floor. Although the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) has approved 11 of the 12 bills (Interior and Environment remains unfinished), none have been taken to the Senate floor. There is little chance that Congress will complete action on all FY2011 appropriations bills before adjourning. However, it might pass a few bills (for example, the “security” bills—DoD, MilCon/VA, and Homeland Security) and wrap the remaining bills in one appropriation bill. Or it could pass one “omnibus” appropriations bill. If Congress gives up on passing any appropriations before adjourning, it could either pass a CR for the entire FY2011 or extend the current CR into early next year and complete action in the 112th Congress. It is still unclear at this time which path Congress will take.
FY2011 DoD Appropriations recap: The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D) approved the FY2011 DoD appropriations bill in August and the full SAC approved it in September. The HAC-D bill provides $523 billion for the base budget (excluding Military Construction and Overseas Contingency Operations), $7 billion less than the president requested. The SAC bill provides $522 billion for the DoD base budget, $8 billion less than the president requested. The SAC bill avoids threatened veto by not funding the F-35 alternative engine program or proposing any new C-17s. For Overseas Contingency Operations in FY2011, the HAC-D bill provides $157.8 billion and the SAC bill $157.7 billion, both roughly $200 million less than the request.
FY2011 Defense Authorization recap: The House passed the FY2011 Defense Authorization bill in May, but the full Senate has not completed action on its bill. There are a number of significant issues that have to be resolved before final agreement, particularly language repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the size of the military pay raise, and funding for the F-35 alternative engine (which the president has threatened to veto). In addition, both bills authorize some military special pays, multiyear buys, and military construction contracts. If the bill is not completed before Congress adjourns in December, these special authorities could be included in a final FY2011 appropriations bill.
Federal employee-related legislation: A number of bills of interest to federal employees are still on the table. The SAC approved the president’s request for a 1.4 percent FY2011 pay increase for federal civilian employees in the FY2011 Financial Services appropriations bill. The HAC has not yet acted on the raise. The House (H.R. 1722) and Senate (S. 707) have passed, but not reconciled, similar telework bills requiring agencies to expand teleworking opportunities for employees. The Federal Supervisor Training Act of 2010 has been approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, but not yet by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Also, a bill to allow federal employees to invest the value of unused leave in their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but has not yet been taken to the House floor or considered by a Senate committee.
Other legislation: Congress has other important leftover legislation that demands attention. The most pressing is if and how to extend tax cuts that are set to expire on December 31. Authority for other tax provisions, such as the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and state and local sales tax deductions will also expire at the end of the year. It is highly probable that Congress and the president will come to an agreement on these tax issues and legislation will be passed and signed by year's end. In addition, Congress is also expected to address expiring special unemployment benefits and scheduled decreases in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.