Editorial: Redemption?

Lame Duck Must Undo Some Basic Failures of 111th Congress

Posted November 16, 2010 at 7:06pm

Having utterly failed to do its basic jobs — funding the government and setting tax rates — and having done many other things the public resoundingly rejected, the 111th Congress is now faced with enormous challenges of its own making before it passes into history.

Our nonpartisan reading of the 2010 election results is that voters rejected the way Democrats used their enormous majorities to push through a series of measures — notably the $787 billion stimulus package and health care reform — that had no Republican support and created deficits that terrified the electorate.

By Democratic lights — as outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has been saying as she tries to cement her leadership — the 111th Congress accomplished a lot, including rescuing the economy from Depression, providing health insurance to 31 million people, credit card and financial services reform and expansion of student loans.

There’s a debate whether Democrats just failed to communicate all they’d done for the country, or whether the public understood it and said “No.” But the consequence was a huge Republican victory that likely makes it even more difficult to get necessary work done in the lame-duck session.

Two priorities for the lame duck top them all: making sure federal agencies can function and giving taxpayers some certainty about their rates.

No poll suggests that voters had budgets, appropriations or tax rates in mind on Nov. 2, but if they had, the Democratic shellacking might have been even more painful.

This was the first year since the 1974 Budget Act was implemented that the House did not pass a budget resolution. It’s just the fifth time Congress as a whole failed to do so.

And so far this year, Congress has passed not one of the 12 annual appropriations bills necessary to fund the government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed nine, but none have made it through the full Senate. The House has passed two, but the other 10 have not even come to a vote in the Appropriations Committee.

During the lame-duck session, Congress will have to decide whether to pass a $1 trillion omnibus bill — forgoing any opportunity to seriously debate the contents — or pass a continuing resolution, punting funding decisions to the 112th Congress and prolonging uncertainties in all federal agencies.

On top of that, the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of the year, substantially raising rates. There’s a consensus for some extensions, but not on exactly which ones. This compounds the uncertainty thought to be part of the cause of the nation’s economic weakness.

Meanwhile, Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled to drop 23 percent at the end of this month, and the long-term unemployed will lose their benefits. Congress failed to resolve these issues before the election, too.

Can the 111th Congress use the lame-duck session to redeem itself during the month of December? If it does not, it will do real damage to the country.