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Legislative Updates: September/October 2012

 

Capitol Call

Following the annual summer recess in August, Congress spent only eight legislative days in Washington in September. So what did Congress get done during those eight days?

According to Senate.gov, the Senate took 11 roll call votes. Seven of those votes were procedural votes to break filibusters, and one more was a non-binding resolution opposing Iran’s nuclear program.

The most meaningful vote was to fund the government at current levels for another six months, thereby avoiding yet another messy potential government shutdown. At the end of the eleventh vote in the early hours of September 22, the Senate decided to join its friends in the House in recessing until November 13, when both bodies will consider many of the legislative topics they would or could not complete before the elections.

The House, without the pesky filibuster to deal with, was able to take many more votes than its Senate counterpart in the eight legislative days. However, even after 44 roll call votes, the only legislation of substance that passed the House was the same continuing resolution later passed by the Senate.

For voters who believe that their representatives should, at the very least, get along with each other, it has been a frustrating term. Neither party wants to hand their opponents a political victory in an election year, no matter how innocuous. Congress couldn't even agree on how to reform the Postal Service, which has been losing money for several years now, nor reach consensus on other seemingly bipartisan issues such as a new farm bill to help farmers during the current drought or the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Last but not least, you may recall that in 2011 Congress decided to use a carrot-and-stick approach to raising the debt ceiling to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts. Leaders of both parties agreed to raise the ceiling but also gave themselves a deadline to come up with meaningful spending reforms in an attempt to tame the deficit. Unsurprisingly, Congress has not been able to agree on the reforms, leaving us with drastic across-the-board cuts known as "sequestration" that will kick-in on January 2, 2013, unless Congress passes additional legislation to undo it.

Sequestration combined with the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts has created a great deal of uncertainty in both the financial markets and the economy in general, leaving our country potentially careening off what has been described by many experts as a "fiscal cliff." Congress says the problems will be resolved during the lame duck session beginning on November 13.

That might be wishful thinking. A Mitt Romney victory could see the Republicans not supporting anything, including a temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, until 2013 when their candidate is sworn in as president. A victory by President Obama would likely get both sides back to the bargaining table because Republicans will know that they will have to deal with him for four more years, so they may as well get to work sooner rather than later. Still, no matter who wins the election, it is unknown which important fiscal issues will be taken up during the lame duck session and what will be put off until 2013.

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