Factbox: Congress in "lame-duck" session after election

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Now that the midterm elections are over, Congress is scheduled to hold a post-election special work period called a “lame-duck session” that begins on November 15.

In U.S. politics, a lame-duck period is the time between a congressional election in November and the start of the new Congress in January. During that time, Congress operates but with many lawmakers who have just been voted out of office and with none of the newly-elected members, except victorious incumbents.

This time around, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats will be closing out a four-year hold on power as voters on Tuesday decided to put Republicans in charge of the House starting in January. The Senate will continue to be controlled by President Barack Obama’s Democrats, although they will hold a smaller majority next year.

The lame-duck session is a time to try to complete action on long-stalled bills, but can also see inaction as departing legislators lose interest or lack the political muscle to get their way.

Sometimes though, a lame-duck session can be productive as the election-year jockeying is out of the way and lawmakers are free to vote their conscience.

WHEN IS IT?

Congress meets after the election and before the new Congress is sworn in the following January, but the length of the lame-duck session is not fixed and depends largely on lawmakers’ appetite for work. This year’s session could last for only a week or so and end before the Thanksgiving Day holiday on November 25, or resume afterward if there are prospects for progress.

BUSH TAX CUTS

Tax cuts enacted when Republican George W. Bush was president expire at the end of 2010 and many lawmakers want to extend most if not all of them.

President Barack Obama, in his post-election news conference, put this issue at the top of his agenda for the lame-duck session.

He wants to extend the tax cuts that expire on December 31, except for a portion of those cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or families making more than $250,000. Republicans want all tax cuts extended permanently. Both plans would add to already large U.S. budget deficits, although the Republican plan would cost the government more.

Given that the Republicans have the momentum after the congressional elections, their tax cut plans could gain favor in the lame-duck session.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one day after the election, flat-out said that the Republicans’ permanent extension of all tax cuts, including for the wealthiest, “won’t happen.”

One idea that could gain traction is to permanently extend most of the cuts, while giving the wealthiest just another year or two to enjoy their existing tax breaks.

If the parties cannot agree, the tax reductions will run out at the end of the year but a new, Republican-heavy Congress convening in January would likely reintroduce them immediately.

CHINA CURRENCY VOTE

The Senate might take up a bill passed by the House of Representatives to impose new U.S. duties on imports from countries with fundamentally undervalued currencies.

The legislation is mainly aimed at China. The Obama administration has delayed a related decision on labeling China as a currency manipulator in the hope of making progress on that issue at the Group of 20 leading nations summit in Seoul November 11-12, shortly before Congress returns.

A China vote might not happen if Democrats, who suffered at the polls, decide they do not have the political backing to take on a lot of issues in the post-election session.

But if it does come to a vote, it appears likely the Senate will approve the House bill.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

There could be moves in the Senate to pass legislation imposing stricter controls on offshore oil drilling following April’s rupture of a BP deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reid said on Wednesday that he will “keep fighting to make sure” that “big oil” is kept in check. But he did not specifically pledge a vote during the lame-duck session on offshore drilling controls.

The House already has passed a bill. Such legislation could be coupled with new steps to encourage cleaner alternative fuels now that comprehensive climate control legislation has been blocked in the Senate.

SPENDING

Some of the most immediate issues concern spending bills to keep government programs running, ranging from education and outer space exploration to health, agriculture and foreign policy activities. If the outgoing Congress cannot agree on funding levels running through September 30, 2011 — the end of the current fiscal year — it likely will provide enough money to keep things running at least until January. Then, it will be up to the new Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate to decide on spending levels.

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL

A study is due in December on possibly eliminating the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexual soldiers to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual preference private. Once that report is issued, Democrats are likely to push legislation ending the nearly 20-year-old policy and giving homosexuals the same rights to serve in the military as heterosexuals. They’ll have to pick up the support of at least a few Republicans.

“It’s time for us to move this policy forward,” Obama said in his post-election news conference, referring to the anticipated December report.

NEW START TREATY

The Senate could vote on whether to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia that would result in a modest cut in both countries’ nuclear arsenals. Conservative Republicans have been opposing the treaty.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

Factbox: Congress in "lame-duck" session after election