There have been a lot of rumors flying about regarding the content of this year’s lame duck session of Congress. DADT repeal, the DREAM Act, ENDA, START… not to mention certain non–optional items like keeping the government funded. But it looks like any of that is going to have to wait until after Thanksgiving, because the House agenda for next week doesn’t show much that’s likely to be controversial. Most of the bills scheduled are boring commemoratives, and I don’t see the substantive bills attracting much dissent. The one item that isn’t scheduled to pass with a 2/3 vote is a motion to concur in the Senate amendments to H.R. 1722, the Telework Enhancement bill. The original version of that bill passed the House 290–131 back on 14 July.
The Senate doesn’t look to be that more exciting. The first votes of the week aren’t scheduled until Wednesday, and they’re just a few more cloture votes on proceeding to bills. I haven’t heard much about whether these votes have any chance of actually succeeding or whether we’re looking at another show of how the Senate Republicans are obstructing things. I’ll update before Wednesday with another look at these votes.
Unless anything new and unexpected shows up, it looks like a quiet start to the lame duck session.
At this time I can now project that Patty Murray (D) has been re–elected to the Senate from Washington. With party control of all Senate races called, the margin in next year’s Senate looks to be 53 Democrats (and allies) to 47 Republicans. That’s enough to prevent Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson from pulling too many shenanigans.
Of course, it’s still unlikely that the Democrats will be able to get anything done without some form of filibuster reform, especially with Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R)(KY) promising that his first priority will be unseating President Obama in 2012 as opposed to actually trying to govern. So we’ll see how that goes.
In other news, I can now project that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has been re–elected. That’s a pretty big surprise, especially given the Republican pick–up of that state’s Senate seat.
There’s been a lot of chatter, both in liberal blog circles and on Capitol Hill itself, about changing the Senate’s filibuster rule so that legislation no longer needs 60 votes to advance. In the current Senate, this has meant finding one Republican Senator to vote with the Democrats—something that has often been nearly impossible to do. But with the Republicans poised to gain a number of Senate seats in the fall, who would the Democrats have to convince to vote with them if the 60–vote requirement stays in place?
While this answer would obviously vary from bill to bill, a general answer can be found by looking at the voting records of each Senator. The Common Space DW–NOMINATE scores for current Senators, as well as Senate candidates that are current or former members of Congress, provide a good estimate of ideology in voting patterns for this purpose. Using the current Senate prediction (which has the Republicans gaining 6 Senate seats) with the most recent DW–NOMINATE scores for each predicted member of the 112th Senate, we get the following:
49 Webb -0.207
50 Nelson (FL) -0.192
51 McCaskill -0.182
52 Carper -0.179
53 Nelson (NE) -0.028
54 Snowe 0.094
55 Collins 0.110
56 Brown (MA) 0.178
57 Cochran 0.291
58 Lugar 0.326
59 Grassley 0.334
60 Alexander 0.343
61 Coats 0.362
62 Hutchison 0.364
63 McCain 0.378
While a number of predicted future Senators do not have DW–NOMINATE scores, it’s likely that a large number of them (due to Tea Party influence) will be conservative enough that it won’t matter for this purpose. I do wonder whether Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) or John Hoeven (R-ND) could qualify, though.
If Mark Kirk (R) defeats Alexi Giannoulias (D) in the Illinois Senate race, which is currently the closest Senate race in the country by my estimation, he’d show up as No. 56 on the list, between Scott Brown and Thad Cochran, leaving Lamar Alexander’s position as No. 60 unchanged.
It’s hard to see what major policy items can pass the Senate that pleases Senators as conservative as Hutchison, Grassley, and Cochran while not losing the support of Democrats. Almost certainly, any such bills would be a great disappointment to Obama’s more liberal supporters.
And Congress is pretty much out. The FY 2011 continuing resolution just passed the House 228–194 (after passing the Senate 69–30 earlier today) so we get to have a functional government until at least 3 December. (I’m not waiting for the Presidential signature to update the countdown timer.)
It’s always kind of fun watching Congress scurry with activity right before a break. We also got NASA Authorization, Intelligence Authorization, and three other less high–profile bills cleared for President Obama today. Pity the Senate is still gridlocked, although even they got a couple of treaties and a big truckful of nominations approved.
Also, the hullabaloo about the adjournment resolution only passing by one vote is overblown. There were a number of Democrats that switched their votes from “yea” to “nay” right before the vote was announced, presumably once they had gotten permission from the whip team to vote against. Realistically, the adjournment resolution was never in danger of failing—the Democratic leadership just wanted to give their more vulnerable members another vote to help them proclaim their independence from the party when they go back to campaign.
The House and Senate haven’t quite adjourned yet, but when they do, the next meeting will be on Monday, 15 November, a good two weeks after the election. There’s no shortage of things for them to do when they get back.
The cloture vote on the motion to proceed to S. 3454, the Defense Authorization bill, just failed 56-43. The status of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, the DREAM Act (immigration reform for servicemembers), and other defense–related matters for the duration of this Congress remains uncertain, as the Senate can’t even begin to consider them.
Waiting to hear what the Senate’s agenda for the rest of the current work period is. The Majority Leader (Sen. Reid) did move to reconsider the cloture vote, so we might see defense authorization come back. There’s also the pesky matter of government funding, given that none of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2011 have even been brought up in the Senate yet.
UPDATE [16:20 CDT by Goobergunch]: Reid’s spokesman tweets:
We’re debating DISCLOSE Act tomorrow w/ vote Thursday
That’s the campaign finance reform bill that passed the House in late June. A previous cloture vote on proceeding to the bill failed 57-41 on 27 July, so I’m guessing reconsideration of that vote will what happens on Thursday.
UPDATE [21:37 CDT by Goobergunch]: The program announcement at the end of today’s Senate session said that the pending business will remain the motion to proceed to the Defense Authorization bill. I’m not sure what the point of this is unless the Senate Democrats think they’re going to shift three votes really really quickly.
And Congress wraps up another short week. The Senate passed H.R. 5297, the Small Business Jobs bill, 61-38, so that goes back to the House now. Meanwhile, the House passed H.R. 4785, the Rural Energy Star bill, 240–172. I’d have the text of that as passed, but the Democrats accepted a motion to recommit by Rep. John Shadegg (Phoenix North, AZ)(R). According to the Clerk of the House:
The instructions contained in the motion seek to require the bill to be reported back to the House with an amendment which requires certain provisions be met in order for funds to be made available. The amendment also states that the provisions of the Act shall be suspended and shall not apply if the Act will have a negative effect on the national budget deficit of the United States.
But the actual legislative text isn’t available online anywhere, and won’t be until the Congressional Record comes out tomorrow. So much for reading the bill. (For the text of the bill without the motion to recommit included, see here.
Next week, the Senate moves to S. 3454, the Defense Authorization bill. The most controversial provision in that bill is the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which has drawn yet another Republican filibuster on this usually noncontroversial bill. The cloture vote on the motion to proceed is scheduled for 14:15 EDT on Tuesday, which means that it’s unlikely that the Senate will even begin formal consideration of the bill until Thursday.
No word on the House schedule yet.
Congress is a weekend away from coming back into session. There are plenty of big ideas for helping the economy being thrown around, but none of them appear to be on next week’s schedule.
On Monday, the Senate will handle the nomination of Jane Stranch (TN) to be an appellate judge on the Sixth Circuit. The confirmation vote will be held at 17:30 EDT. It’s good to see the Senate move another judicial nomination, but there are still way too many vacancies that need filling—and neither the Senate nor President Obama have been moving that urgently on doing so.
On Tuesday, starting at 11:00, the Senate starts a bunch of cloture votes relative to H.R. 5297, the Small Business Jobs bill. Senator George Voinovich (R)(OH) announced that he’ll support cloture, so the bill now has the 60 votes it needs to get through the Republican blockade and go through. Look for that to happen late next week.
Meanwhile, the House is looking at a Tuesday to Thursday week. A full list of the “suspension” bills that will likely sail through without controversy can be found on the Majority Leader’s website. The only bill scheduled for full debate in the House this week is H.R. 4785, the Rural Energy Star bill. (I haven’t been following this bill, so I can’t say much about it other than it’ll be considered on Thursday.)
Notably absent from any of this are any bills relating to the tax cuts that both President Obama and his Republican opponents have been discussing. In fact, there are rumors circulating that the House may recess as early as 1 October for the campaign season. Given that there’s no way that anything as contentious as these tax cuts is getting through Congress by then, we’re looking at a lame–duck session before they can be dealt with. Another issue that the lame–duck session will have to consider is the appropriations process—with only 2 of 12 appropriations bills that have even passed the House, I’m guessing we’re going to be looking at a big nasty omnibus, assuming the issue of government spending doesn’t just get punted to the next Congress. Finally, the lame–duck session gets to deal with whatever the Deficit Commission spits out. Joy.
To add even more fun to the end of this Congressional session, generally Senators that are elected to fill out the terms of Senators who have died or resigned take office immediately, replacing the appointed Senator that filled the seat prior to their election. This year, that applies to the Delaware, Illinois, New York, and West Virginia seats, and may also apply to the Colorado seat. So Democrats could be down to a 55–45 majority, in a worst–case scenario (there’s no way Gillibrand loses) as soon as 3 November. Can you say “NO CLOTURE FOR YOU?”