FACTBOX-US Congress in ‘lame-duck’ session after election

Nov 3 (BestGrowthStock) – Now that the U.S. midterm elections are
over, Congress is scheduled to hold a post-election special
work period called a “lame-duck session” that begins on Nov.
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 Nov. 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 Dec. 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
Nov. 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 Sept. 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-US Congress in ‘lame-duck’ session after election