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Lame-duck session likely to punt to next Congress

After a shift of power, there's little political will to finish incomplete agenda issues this session.

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The "lame-duck" Congress opening this week may fit its billing.

There's a vast unfinished agenda in the 109th Congress, including most of the fiscal 2007 spending bills, immigration reform, ethics rules for lawmakers, an offshore drilling bill, a fix for President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, and an omnibus trade and tax package.

But after an election that shifted control of the House and Senate to Democrats, there's little political will to complete it this session.

"There are a lot of factors in play, and the difficulties haven't gone anywhere since the election," says Don Stewart, a spokesman for incoming Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. "Both sides are talking a lot, but there hasn't been agreement yet. People are just going to keep talking until someone throws up their hands."

Congress is likely to punt on approving at least nine of the 12 spending bills for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

All that means heavy lifting for Democrats in the 110th Congress, who will have to deal with old spending bills even as they are rolling out a signature agenda for the first 100 legislative days.

While expectations are fading for spending bills, the Senate is on track to confirm former CIA director Robert Gates as Defense secretary. The Senate Armed Services Committee opens hearings on the nomination Tuesday, which are expected to be vigorous but not deeply divisive.

"We have to have someone who will speak truth to power and not just tell a president what he wants to hear," said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, the committee's incoming chairman, on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "It's likely that he's confirmed, but it's very important that there be a fair process."

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