Come Back

Posted October 6, 2008 at 5:09pm

With the nation’s economy still in perilous condition despite passage of the $700 billion financial rescue package last week, we recommend that both the House and Senate plan to return to town for a lame-duck session after the November elections.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) already is calling for such a session the week of Nov. 17 to resolve a long-standing dispute with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who’s blocking a package of about 30 public lands bills.

But there may well be more to do if clear signs of a deepening recession become evident through the elections.

On Sept. 26, the House passed a $60.8 billion economic stimulus package containing extended unemployment and food stamp benefits, Medicaid aid to state governments, and funds for pending infrastructure projects.

The Senate failed to pass a parallel package and President Bush threatened a veto. But the atmosphere might change considerably if the economy continues to weaken — and if Democrats are open to negotiating with President Bush on his last prize legislative request, the Colombia free-trade agreement.

In the past, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) have indicated they could support the trade agreement despite fierce objections from trade unions. That might be easier to do after the elections, especially in the context of a deal with Bush on a stimulus package.

Moreover, if the administration and Republicans are willing to consider a new stimulus package, they will want to negotiate for tax cuts to be part of it.

It’s not our business to take sides on the merits of legislation or to promote their contents, but to urge Congress to take action — preferably on a bipartisan basis — when major national issues arise.

With experts of both parties predicting economic doom if it did not pass the rescue package last week, Congress finally did so. It was a tortured process, with the House voting the measure down on Sept. 29, 228-205, which was promptly followed by a 770-point drop in the stock market.

Then on Oct. 1, the Senate added a long-stalled tax-extender package to its version of rescue legislation, and it passed the House on Friday, 263-171, and Bush quickly signed it. The final measure had critics, but it was the product of bipartisan and bicameral input.

Judging by the market’s nosedive on Monday, the rescue package was not sufficient to restore confidence in credit markets — though it may when fully implemented — or to counteract a world financial panic, rising unemployment and an imminent recession.

Under these circumstances, it’s not appropriate for Congress to remain in recess until January. If there’s work to do — and it appears there is — it ought to be back to do it.