Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column on Lame Ducks

(Writer’s note: Per the arrangement with the syndicators, my newspaper columns appear on this site a week after their release)


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We can only hope that when the members of the lame-duck Congress flock back to the Capitol they don’t fowl up their swan song. They must cut through the inevitable post-campaign confusion and take care of business.

Tax business is the priority. If Democrats couldn’t exploit the GOP’s fierce defense of cuts for the wealthy before the election, they won’t do it now. So their demands that the rich be excluded from an extension of the Bush cuts will ring hollow; if something isn’t passed, taxes go up for everyone. The steamrollered president already has made it clear that he doesn’t have the stomach anymore for that fight.

Even more treacherous is the road ahead for an extension of unemployment insurance. Republicans successfully turned that into an issue about government overspending, instead of one about the 2 million desperate Americans who have been out of work so long they face losing their flimsy lifeline and going into free-fall.

There is so much else that should be settled, but will mostly get tossed into the Forget About It bin. Immigration Reform, the so-called DREAM Act? Dream on. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell? Don’t ask. START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which requires Senate ratification? A nonstarter.

And what about the appropriations bills, the legislation that funds all the government agencies? After all, the primary responsibility of Congress is “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” So sayeth the Constitution.

Could be, but no appropriation has passed. Zip. Instead the feds are making do with another so-called Continuing Resolution, a temporary fix that keeps the money flowing. It expires Dec. 3, which means the squabblers will have to agree on a new CR that will carry everyone over to the next Congress. As simple as that sounds, this is not a sure thing. Republicans want a CR set at spending levels of the 2008 budget; Democrats, at the current ones. Look for these ducks to play some chicken with the threat of a government shutdown, particularly with so many standing in the wings who believe a government shutdown would be a good thing. Still, cooler heads probably will agree on a way to avert that. This time.

Meanwhile, we’ll be treated to watching all the angst over leadership slots. The tea partiers are demanding a seat at the table, and it looks like Michele Bachmann has anointed herself their standard-bearer. Nancy Pelosi has decided she wants to continue as Numera Una for House Democrats, much to the consternation of many on that side who believe she helped make them a minority.

What we won’t get to witness is all the maneuvering by outgoing members to land cushy lobbying jobs. What a shame somebody doesn’t come up with a clothing line featuring pockets for carrying resumes.

Before they move on to one of those higher tax brackets, they will get their last shot at leaving their mark. Mercifully, at some point, this sad spectacle will fade away. The 111th Congress will come to an end and make way for the 112th. By then we will know whether the conclusion of this lame-duck session is a final lame joke.

© 2010 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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