Lame duck congressional session begins slowly

Lame duck congressional session begins slowly

One week into the “lame duck” session after the elections, Congress has made little progress on its major legislative issues.  To be sure some votes were taken, but the results were mixed.  The House passed the final telework bill and sent it to the president for signature.  The Senate confirmed Jacob Lew to be Director of OMB.  However, the House failed in its attempt to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of the year.  There has been a lot of behind the scenes discussion regarding the FY2011 appropriations bills, but not much in the way of formal action.  None of the twelve appropriations bills have cleared Congress and much of the talk has centered around the possibility of passing a single omnibus appropriations bill for FY2011.  However, it remains uncertain whether or not Congress can pass some form of an omnibus bill before adjournment.  If not, it will most likely either extend the Continuing Resolution (CR), which runs out December 3, and renew consideration early next year, or pass a CR for the entire fiscal year.  There was also much discussion this week by the White House and the Congress on how to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts beyond Dec. 31.  But again, there was no movement on actual legislation.  There is a glimmer of hope regarding the FY2011 Defense Authorization bill.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (N-NV) announced this week he will bring the bill to the Senate floor in December.  The House passed its version of the bill in May.  The Senate, after the Senate Armed Services Committee reported a bill in May, has not been able to move to a final vote on the floor.  The major stumbling block to a final Senate vote is proposed language to repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving in the military.  Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) continue to actively oppose the policy change and have said they would move to stop action on the bill if it includes repeal language.  In non-legislative action, House Republicans and Democrats did elect their leaders for the 112th Congress, which convenes in January.  The Republican caucus, as expected, elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to be the new Speaker of the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to be the House Majority Leader, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be House Majority Whip (chiefly responsible for lining up votes on legislation).  House Democrats elected former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be the House Minority Leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) the new House Minority Whip, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) to the new position of Assistant Minority Leader.  Senate leadership will not change for the 112th Congress.  Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will be the Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will be the #2 and #3 ranking Democrats.  Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue as Senate Minority Leader along with Sen. John Kyle (R-AZ) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in the Republican #2 and #3 positions.  Today Congress began a week-long recess for Thanksgiving and will return Monday, Nov. 29th.  Highlights will continue to provide up-to-date reporting on congressional action until it adjourns at the end of the year.

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