Yes, the Republicans will have a majority of at least 22 seats in the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress beginning in January, 2011, but it will be a rocky road for them. There will be 40 or so Teapartiers in their ranks, who want to do away with earmarks, lower the deficit, and, perhaps, even want to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – completely. Incoming Speaker John Boehner will have a hard time keeping them in line, and incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, with her wide, killer smile, will delight in splitting the teabaggers from their Dear Leader.
We now enter the phase of the Lame Duck Congress, the last two months of the old 111th Congress, which takes on added importance when the majority party is voted out of power. Recall what happened when Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the Republicans came to power in the Senate, and when George Bush was elected in the disputed 2000 election at the end of Bill Clinton’s two terms. The last-minute legislation passed in those Lame Duck Sessions was often ill-thought-out and did more harm than good. Case in point: The legislation passed in late December, 2000 and signed into law by President Clinton which deregulated the commodity futures and other financial markets, allowing Enron to run wild in the ensuing months and which led to much of the excesses of the economic meltdown in 2008.
However, for this Lame Duck Session, much can be accomplished: there are over 400 bills passed in the House which have stalled in the Senate, and which, if passed, would likely be signed into law by President Obama. There are also many stalled executive and judicial nominations which could be acted upon in the Senate by year end, if the one-Senator “holds” and threatened Republican filibusters can be overcome.
For the 2010 Lame Duck Session, here are some of the most important pieces of pending legislation:
- The DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors. Harry Reid promised to make this a top priority for the Lame Duck Session during the campaign.
- Campaign Finance Reform, to limit the scope of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case. Kicked to 2011 almost certainly.
- Extending Unemployment Benefits, due to expire on November 30, 2010. There are 15 million unemployed, and five potential applicants for every job opening. Has to be extended, or chaos will result.
- Getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Probably will be kicked to 2011, unless Obama acts unilaterally.
- Increasing the U.S. debt limit above it’s current ceiling, which is $14.294 trillion. This will be kicked to the new Congress, where it will be a huge fight, with some of the Teabaggers in Congress vowing not to allow it, which would plunge the U.S. debt into default and cause a worldwide depression (unless some Wall Street hedge fund manager exercises his or her Second Amendment rights on the offending Teabagger).
- Resolving the Estate Tax mess. The Estate Tax was allowed to expire at the end of 2009, and will go to a $1 million exemption and a 55% tax rate above that at the end of 2010 unless Congress acts to return the $3.5 million exemption (as Obama wants) or a $5 million exemption (as the Republicans want). This should be easy to compromise in the Lame Duck Session, if there is a will to do it in the Senate.
- Resolving the Bush Tax Cuts issue. This will be the main debate in the Lame Duck Session, with the Democrats wanting to keep the tax cuts in place at least temporarily for those earning under $200,000 (single taxpayers) and $250,000 (families), and the Republicans wanting to reward their rich friends and supporters by continuing the tax cuts permanently for everyone (glossing over the fact that it would add over $1 trillion to the national debt). Obama has signaled some sort of “compromise”, but one of his major campaign pledges dealt with increasing taxes for Americans earning over $250,000, and if he caved on this issue it would be a major sellout. I predict that nothing will get done on this issue during the Lame Duck Session, the Bush tax cuts will expire, and the next Congress will deal with the issue, trying to decide whether or not to make the tax cuts retroactive. This result would create havoc for tax planners and for all Americans trying to plan their tax strategies, as well as for the IRS and the deficit hawks. I hope I am wrong.
- Fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax problem, which will add 23 million middle class families to the AMT tax next year if it is not adjusted for inflation. Many not-rich families already are caught by the AMT, which was originally passed to close tax loopholes for very wealthy Americans.
- Overhauling the food safety regulations. Will get pushed to 2011.
- Passing the Cap and Trade Legislation. The House has passed it, and it is dead in the water unless the Senate passes it this year, but Obama is waffling on it. Some of the key Republicans coming into Congress next year or assuming leadership positions in the House do not believe that global warming is a problem, until God says that it is, and He has not spoken. Don’t count on its passage in the Senate.
- Increasing the liability and cost of oil spills which can be recovered from the offenders. Obama is not given enough credit for getting BP to toe the line and set up a $20 billion dollar fund here, which BP could have avoided if it decided to follow the letter of the law (but it might have gotten its U.S. assets seized if it did). Probably won’t happen, given the clout of the oil industry in Congress.
- Senate ratification of the START arms pact with Russia. Needs 67 votes in the Senate, which won’t happen unless it is done in 2010, which would be a blow to Obama, since he has promised the Russians that it will be passed.
- Extending the Social Security COLA benefit. The cost of living adjustment for Social Security recipients next year will not happen unless it is passed by Congress, and if it is not done in 2010, it will not happen in 2011 with the “support our the rich friends” Republicans in control of the House.
- Reversing Medicare benefit cuts. On December 1, unless Congress acts, the amount the federal government reimburses doctors will be cut by 23%, causing some doctors to refuse Medicare patients. Won’t happen unless done before Congress recesses for Thanksgiving. Don’t count on it.
- Fiscal year 2011 Defense appropriations, as well as the appropriations for much of rest of the federal government, have not yet passed Congress, and need to be passed soon, to prevent a government shutdown. Should get done this year.
President Obama’s approval ratings are now 45.1%, but Congress’s is 21.3%. If Congress does not get done a majority of the major pending items outlined above before it adjourns for the year, there could be open revolt in this country. There are now 59 million Americans without healthcare benefits, and the richest 2% of Americans control 20% of the wealth in the country, the most in many generations. Many Americans perceive the Wall Street reform signed into law as not adequate enough, and “Obamacare”, as its detractors call it, has not kicked in enough for most Americans to see any benefit.
The Republicans should remember that the vote in the 2010 elections, especially in Middle America, was not a vote of support for them, as their approval rating is worse than the Democrats, but it is a sign of huge discontent: a house that is underwater, with no relief from their crushing mortgage debt in sight, a job that has vanished or is in danger of being shipped overseas, diminishing hope that they will be able to afford to send their kids to college, and a feeling that their government has turned a blind eye to their problems.
So Republicans, as you take charge of the House next January, and as your leaders in the Senate are saying that their major job over the next two years will be to deny President Obama his reelection in 2012, rather than trying to deal with the country’s huge problems, watch out. The anger is building, and it will be directed at you.
Ted Vaill is an elected delegate to the California State Democratic Convention from the 41st Assembly District, and has been a lawyer in Los Angeles for over 40 years. He is also a filmmaker, whose most recent film, just posted on YouTube, is “Does Shangri-La Exist?”