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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Notes on the Week Ahead in Washington

George Wenschhof

Two weeks will have passed since the mid term elections and President Obama will be back in town after a ten day Asian trip. Results from the mid term elections and the Asian trip were not very positive for the Obama administration as Democrats lost control of the House and little positive outcomes from trade and global economic negotiations were announced during the president's trip.

This week, the Lame-Duck Congress will open and the looming question is what will be accomplished?

While Democrats could pass most of what they wanted as they still maintain a solid majority in the House, Senate Republicans have shown they are capable, with the use of the outdated filibuster, of stopping Democratic legislation.

Before, Congress focuses on what bills to address, they will first vote on their new leadership. Interesting, as the vote will take place before newly elected members of Congress are sworn in.

No major changes are expected on either side as Democrats are expected to keep Harry Reid (Nev.) as Senate Majority Leader and Republicans will keep Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as Minority Leader.

The House Leaders will also stay the same with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) merely changing positions upon the start of the new Congress. Democrats avoided a nasty insider fight by agreeing to make Steny Hoyer (Md.) Minority Whip and creating a new position of Assistant Minority Leader position for James Clyburn (N.C.). Eric Cantor (Va.) will assume the Majority Leader position.

With no changes in leadership on either side of the aisle, do not expect much compromise and consensus building to transpire.

However, President Obama will take a stab at it by inviting the leaders of Congress to the White House on Thursday for a afternoon discussion, followed by dinner. Expected to be discussed is what bills can we pass now during the lame-duck and where do we go from here?

No big shake ups expected within the Obama administration other than a long planned exit of Senior White House adviser Axelrod who will most likely be replaced by David Plouffe. In a reversal of roles by the two close advisers as the campaign to reelect Obama kicks into gear come Spring.

Votes most likely to come forward during the lame duck session, in no particular order are as follows:

Extension of Bush Tax Cuts - sunsets as of 12-31-2010. Expect at minimum a passage of all tax cuts for two years, which effectively puts off making a decision. An option picking up support is a passage of all the current tax cuts except those on folks making more than one million.

An interesting figure is if all the tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration were allowed to expire and we went back to the Clinton administration tax levels, the deficit would be reduced by more than 2.5 trillion.

The START Treaty with Russia which further reduces the number of nuclear weapons, is now in danger of not being passed if it is not acted on during the lame duck session. Even if acted on now, the required two-thirds votes needed in the Senate will be difficult. Obama needs this to pass - if this also fails, it will be another blow to his administration.

Extension of Unemployment Benefits - set to expire the end of the year. Democrats will push for a one year extension, but doubtful this will be approved. Look to see a 3-6 month compromised approved.

What should have been proposed is a national public service jobs program which required unemployed to work in an area of public service. This way, a public service would be provided for the tax payers money being spent.

DREAM Act - a bill which provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. This is a good bill and should be approved, but it is unlikely to be approved until a comprehensive immigration bill is introduced.

Energy bill - Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) will try again for some watered down bill devoid of the controversial cap-and-trade provisions, but it will face stiff opposition.

The deficit reduction commission will also issue their recommendations in early December, but do not expect any action by Congress on them during the lame-duck session.

Also, remember there is a planned update on the Afghanistan war in December planned which would hopefully lead to the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawal this coming summer.

This report is also pivotal for the Obama administration. If the withdrawal of troops is delayed, this would be another setback for Obama and further anger the Democratic base.

Stay Tuned...


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