What was once touted as an escape hatch period for Democrats to push through legislation like Cap and Trade, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the DREAM Act, the lame duck session of Congress, which includes only members of the 111th Congress with newly sworn-in Senators from special elections this year, looks more like a limp across the finish line for Democrats than anything else right now. However, Vice President Joe Biden told me on Monday at the Capitol he was not worried about how the lame duck session was looking right now.
“I’m not [concerned with the lame duck session.] I’ll be meeting with Senator McConnell a little bit later today. I think we can move things along, so I’m not concerned,” said Mr. Biden. “We got a lot to get done, and we have to get it done. We can’t go home until we get it done.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, announced in September he would try to pass a renewable energy bill in the final weeks of this year and reportedly try and push through the immigration bill known as the DREAM act. Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, wants a another stimulus bill passed during the lame duck session, and President Barack Obama said the best chance for repealing DADT, which would allow for homosexuals to serve openly in the military, would be during the lame duck session, but Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Senator Mark Warner of Virginia are skeptical of the repeal happening during lame duck.
However, even though new GOP members will not be part of the House and the majority of new GOP Senators will not be part of the Senate during the lame duck session, both Republican and Democratic congressional members up for re-election in 2012 know their votes are still being watched closely and getting too comfortable may mean a tough re-election or primary challenge. Senator Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, is up for re-election in ’12. He is likely thinking long and hard about the possible consequences of voting for liberal legislation in these final weeks, given the chilly reception his constituents gave him for his support of the health care act.
Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, does not believe Democrats will try to push through controversial legislation during the lame duck session. Mr. Corker told me on Monday, “Even before the election, we had gone back and looked. I think Mitch has also looked at one hundred years and when there’s been a tremendous change in the balance here in the Senate, typically, there hasn’t been lot of mischief during lame duck.”
“People kind of get the message and say, ‘The people have spoken and I think, hopefully, the majority party views that as saying that would just even breach trust more than maybe people felt during the election cycle itself. I don’t think anything monumental, necessarily, or something that’s done because the numbers are going to be different next year,” he explained.
Senator Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, was just sworn in on Monday and faces re-election in 2012 as well, because he won his seat via a special election this year. Mr. Manchin told me today that he would not support cap and trade legislation. The coal mining industry is his state’s bread and butter, but if Mr. Manchin votes on liberal energy policy he interprets as not cap and trade oriented that could very well be his undoing in 2012. Immigration is another issue Mr. Manchin cannot side easily with his party on, considering polls show that West Virginia voters are more conservative on immigration issues.
In the meantime, Senator-elect Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, still needs to be sworn in on November 29, and Jim Geraghty at National Review rightly questions why Mr. Kirk, who won a special election this year, must miss the first two weeks of the lame duck session, while two Democrats who won their special elections were immediately sworn in Monday afternoon.
Too much wind has been taken out of the sails of the Democratic agenda since the passage of the healthcare legislation last March, and the mid-term elections were yet another body blow to their Party. Is a lame duck session full of liberal legislation really something the Democrats want the voters ,who just sent home a number of their party members, want to be remember by as their final act in the 111th Congress?