Lame Duck sessions are the crazy drunken uncles of the Congressional schedule – we didn’t invite them, nothing good ever happens when they’re here, but every couple of years during the holidays they show up anyways and make a nuisance of themselves. Ousted and retiring lawmakers get to vote on laws that their successors will have to live with, and recently reelected Members feel invincible and unaccountable to anyone. Good times.
So far, most of the activity has been tying up loose ends on minor bills, holding party leadership elections for next Congress, and holding orientation meeting for newly-elected Members. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are working feverishly to confirm as many of President Obama’s unconfirmed judicial and agency nominations as possible before an incoming Republican majority makes that process much more difficult next year.
The good news about the Democrats’ furious race to confirm nominees is that it has led them to neglect some of the more nefarious policies that they may have tried to pass otherwise. President Obama’s latest illegal action should also contribute to this lame duck being (hopefully) a bit of a dud.
Still, there are numerous issues that may see the light of day when Congress comes back to town for a fast and furious two weeks after Thanksgiving, so it can’t hurt to keep vigilant:
- Funding the government: The one thing that Congress absolutely must do before adjourning for the year is to extend the funding for the federal government past the current end date of December 11th. Although both chambers had talked about passing an omnibus appropriations bill (which allows both the changing of funding levels for various departments, as well as adding in a bevy of other new government projects), it looks increasingly like they may have to resort to passing another Continuing Resolution (CR). A CR merely maintains current levels of spending for a specific period of time.
- Tax Extenders: A large number of temporary tax deductions and subsidies are either expiring or have expired by the end of 2014. Congress generally renews these “temporary” tax provisions in a package just referred to as the “tax extenders”, which includes everything from broad deductions for businesses to corporate welfare tax breaks such as the Wind Production Tax Credit. Unfortunately, it appears likely that the entire package of tax extenders, both good and bad, will be reauthorized together out of expediency.
- Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA): ITFA is a prohibition on taxing internet access at either the state or federal level – preventing government from taxing your internet the same way that they do phone or cable services. FreedomWorks strongly endorses allowing the internet to remain tax free, and hopefully Congress will pass a permanent extension of ITFA before its scheduled expiration this December. Unfortunately, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has been insistent that ITFA be combined with the…
- Marketplace Fairness Act: Another terrible policy with a pleasant-sounding name, the Marketplace Fairness Act would fundamentally change the boundaries of taxation by allowing states to collect taxes on internet sales from businesses in other states. Not only does this set up taxation without representation (businesses collecting taxes for, and subject to audits from, states in which they do not vote), it also undermines tax competition between states. For a more detailed discussion about why even the underlying premise of the Marketplace Fairness Act is dead wrong check out our Issue Analysis.
- Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA): An obsolete program that is nevertheless almost certain to be reauthorized, TRIA subsidized insurance companies who provide coverage for damage from a terrorist attack like on 9/11. Thanks to this endless government subsidy, not only do companies have their premiums for terrorism insurance subsidized, but their payouts as well.
- Export-Import Bank: Although unlikely, it is possible that defenders of the corporate welfare-laden Export Import Bank may try to sneak a longer-term extension of the bank through. Currently the bank’s authorization has only been extended through June of 2015, after which if Congress does nothing it will be finally allowed to expire.