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Will Congress Punt on the ‘Fiscal Cliff’?

Bill Clark/Roll Call
In his own media availability Friday, Speaker John Boehner hinted at his previous suggestion that lawmakers punt on the fiscal cliff until the 113th Congress, so the new Members elected Tuesday have the ability to weigh in.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to go into details on exactly how Obama wanted to avoid the fiscal cliff beyond extending the middle class tax cuts, saying those details would be negotiated.

Still, many political analysts do not expect Congress to ring in the New Year without taking some action to ward off what could be a major hit to the economy.

“I’m sure political parties, both of them, understand that the American people will not be amused if the failure of the parties to get to ‘yes’ produces a new recession,” says William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

For that reason, lawmakers might agree to a stopgap of some sort, allowing the 113th Congress to chart the country’s fiscal course free of immediate economic peril.

“They’re going to want to buy time,” said Ross Baker, a Congressional scholar at Rutgers University who predicts “the Olympic event in Washington known as kicking the can down the road.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shrugged that aside on Wednesday, saying lawmakers “should roll up our sleeves and get it done.”

Congress has a daunting list of other unfinished business.

Farm state lawmakers are still hoping to pass multi-year legislation to reauthorize the country’s agricultural programs. National security measures — including this year’s defense authorization bill, a cybersecurity bill and legislation to reauthorize the government’s surveillance authority — are also expected to occupy floor time.

Prominent business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are pushing Congress to act on legislation establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia. The bill is backed by the Obama administration and breezed through the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means panels, but Congressional leaders have struggled to set up a procedural path to passage.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also expected to push for a supplemental appropriations bill for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies in response to Hurricane Sandy.

A host of other measures remains on the lame-duck agenda, including an overhaul of the Postal Service, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and a bill to increase the number of visas for highly skilled immigrants.

Sarah Binder, a Congressional scholar at George Washington University, said lame-duck sessions generally do not deviate from the rest of the year in strategy or output.

“It’s a myth that lame-duck sessions are these miraculous” periods, she said, where lawmakers are freed from normal constraints and suddenly change behavior.


Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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