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'Lame duck' Congress unlikely to do much

Like most political farewells, the post-election congressional session that opens Nov. 12 will likely generate more sentiment than substance. It will be a legislative "last hurrah" for President Carter and Democratic-dominated Congress. With the President having lost his office to Ronald Reagan, his party having lost control of the Senate to the Republicans, and the GOP having lost any incentive to cooperate with this covey of "lame ducks," the legislative accomplishments of the session are expected to be skimpy.

Amid the goodby handshakes among Democrats and the expectant hand-rubbing among Republicans, the out- going Congress is anticipated to do little more than enact the housekeeping money bills necessary to keep the federal government going until the GOP takes command in January.

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Congress reconvenes at a time when the government had drifted 1 1/2 months into its new fiscal year without either a budget or approval of 10 out of the 13 bills appropriating money to run it.

Wrapping up this unfinished financial business is the one matter that legislative leaders of both parties agree the lame-duck Congress ought to complete.

But even here, electoral repercussions may intrude. The reinvigorated Republicans may balk at financial arrangements drawn up by the departing Carter administration and soon-to-be-depleted congressional Democrats.

If so, leaders on both sides are reconciled to settling for a stopgap measure merely continuing government funding at last year's levels.

Action on anything more ambitious than money to keep the government ticking along -- and there is a long list of meaty legislation waiting to be voted on -- looks questionable.

"Beyond that [internal financing]," concedes a member of the House Democratic leadership staff, "it doesn't look very good."

An aide of Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, the minority leader who is shortly expected to become majority leader, agrees.

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"We'd prefer to wait on any far-reaching legislation," he says, unless one of the Republican committee chairmen-to-be comes up with a measure he wishes to push.

The likeliest such initiative to be launched by Republicans in this lame-duck session, where they are still out- numbered in both houses, is a tax cut.

Prospective Senate Finance Committee chairman Robert J. Dole (R) of Kansas wants his party colleagues to press for $39 billion in tax cuts, rather than wait until January to do so. President-elect Reagan has given his consent. "It'll be just fine with me," he says, "if they don't wait."

The long agenda of substantive legislation that the Democrats had once hoped to ram through the post-election Congress, however, has been rendered increasingly elusive by the Republican electoral landslide.

Any item that Republicans wish to postpone until they take control of the Senate next year is vulnerable to a GOP filibuster.

The Democrats' strength already falls one vote short of the 60 needed to cut off debate, and, on the eve of a Republican rise to power, no GOP senator is likely to break ranks to join them.

Among the endangered measures: a renewal of revenue-sharing for states and localities; preservation of Alaska's wildlands; a "superfund" to finance the cleanup of poisonous chemical wastes; overhaul of the nation's patchwork of criminal laws.

The lowered expectations for the session also are likely to shorten its life.

Before the election, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. of Massachusetts spoke of staying in session "until five minutes before the next Congress is to begin."

But now, pressed by Republicans and more than 50 defeated and retiring lame-duck Democrats eager to get it over with, some speculate that work could be finished shortly after Thanksgiving.

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