Congress came back into session yesterday for the first time since the elections on November 4th. The period between now and when the 114th Congress is sworn in in January is known as the lame duck session, and it is the last chance outgoing Members of Congress have to push through legislation they’d like to see discussed. This lame duck session is of particular note because it is that last time Democrats will be in the majority in the Senate for at least the next two years. On November 4th, Republicans picked up enough seats to gain control of the Senate, giving them the majority in both houses of Congress starting next year.
Issues: While lame duck sessions aren’t generally characterized by a great deal of action, there are a few things advocates should consider paying attention to, the first of which being a spending bill for the government. The current Continuing Resolution that funds the government expires on December 11th, so Congress will have to come up with a new spending bill—probably either another short-term continuing resolution or an omnibus spending bill—before that date to avoid another government shutdown. Though a government shutdown this December is unlikely, the budget negotiations will be heated, and they are important because they will determine the levels of funding for federal programs as we move into the new year.
Some other issues Congress is likely to address during the lame duck include foreign policy issues like ISIS and Ebola, nominations like that of Attorney General, Immigration reform, and tax extenders. It also seems possible that debate over the Keystone XL pipeline may come up.
Congressional Leadership: Party leadership elections took place today with no real surprises. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be leading Senate Republicans as Majority Leader, while Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will be leading Senate Democrats as Minority Leader. In the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH-8) has been reelected Speaker of the House, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) will continue in her role as Minority Leader for the Democratic Party.
Advocacy during the lame duck: The lame duck is a great time to continue to advocate. While Congress may not have the time or political will to address the particular issues you care about during this session, you can still let your representatives know what’s important to you and what you’d like to see them work on next year by making phone calls, sending emails, and responding to action alerts. If nothing else, you likely have a stake in the outcome of the government spending bill, so make sure you get your opinions heard on the Hill over the next few weeks!