The Most Productive Lame Duck Since World War II

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 22 2010 3:09 PM

The Most Productive Lame Duck Since World War II

I'd argue that this is almost a fluke, given that previous Congresses were not as sloppy and ossified as this one -- twenty years ago, things like the food safety bill, which passed on a 75-23 vote, would not have been punted to the lame duck. But one man's fluke is another man's Historic Victory. The food safety bill joins the 9/11 first responders' aid, the tax cut compromise, repeal of DADT, and ratification of START as the last work of the lame duck. Nothing that Tea Partyers were worried about passed; a lot of stuff that liberals wanted did pass.

During the START debate, a number of Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, claimed that a treaty ratification during a lame duck was unprecedented. This is true in one sense -- no nuclear arms reduction treaty had ever been ratified in a lame duck. In the 1994 lame duck session, after Republicans won Congress but before they took over, the House and Senate passed GATT, and Bill Clinton signed it.

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That's more trivia, though. What happens to the Obama agenda in the long term? Jon Ward answers the question : Not much. It's still going to be brutal in two weeks.

"We’re going to face some very tough decisions right out of the box," [incoming ranking member on the Budget Committee and Maryland Rep. Chris] Van Hollen said, pointing to the debate in March that will ensue when the government’s funding runs out, requiring another continuing resolution.

Van Hollen said he expects incoming House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, to push for reducing spending to 2008 levels in the new CR. Boehner, however, has not said when he will try to make significant spending cuts, and there is a good chance he could do so even sooner than March.

Also in the spring, the national debt is likely to be nearing its current ceiling of $14.3 trillion, requiring an act of Congress to raise it. Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who served as a co-chair of Obama’s deficit commission, has predicted a "political bloodbath" during this debt limit fight.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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