Lame-duck Congress: What four issues can't be ignored?

Legislators return to Congress Wednesday. While post-election, lame-duck sessions don't tend to yield many major decisions, there are four key issues that will have to be addressed in one way or another.

After a little distraction called the election, Congress is coming back to work this week. Lawmakers will are launching a lame-duck session that will include important issues including funding for US military action against the Islamic State in Iraq, and pressure from the White House over immigration policy and the confirmation of a nominee for Attorney General.

Oh, and they need to approve a new funding measure so the federal government doesn’t go into “shutdown” mode on Dec. 11.

By definition, the weeks following an election aren’t expected to be big on legislative productivity. It’s a relatively brief interim when many politicians are thinking less what they can do in a lame-duck session and more about the next session in January – in this case one where Republicans will control the Senate as well as the House. Sometimes legislators don’t bother meeting at all during this time.

Although the biggest votes this time around aren’t expected before Thanksgiving, here are some things on Congress’s plate this time around:

  • Battling radical Islamists. President Obama hopes to get quick approval for $5.6 billion in additional funding to combat the Sunni militant group Islamic State in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. An additional 1,500 US troops would go to Iraq, roughly doubling the number working with Iraqi forces.
  • Keeping the government up and running. Neither party wants to see a shutdown scenario, where many non-urgent government agencies close their doors because funds stop flowing. The last time this happened, Republicans took it on the chin in public opinion as the party most to blame. An appropriations bill could end up funding the government through the end of the 2015 fiscal year (next Sept. 30). Lawmakers will probably extend a range of recurring tax breaks as well.
  • Presidential nominations. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats hope to get as many nominees confirmed as they can, before the Senate terrain becomes less friendly to the White House in January. At the top of Obama’s wish list is Loretta Lynch, a federal prosecutor newly nominated to take the reins of the Justice Department as Eric Holder leaves the attorney general post. Republicans want to hold off next year on the Lynch nomination. Even setting the AG post aside, the Senate has more than 150 nominees to review for judge, ambassador, and other jobs, according to the Associated Press.
  • Immigration. Obama has pledged to issue an executive order soon that would officially open the door to some immigrants who currently don’t have legal status. Eventually Congress will have to address immigration reform through legislation, but for the lame-duck session a big job will be posturing – as Democrats seek to defend the president’s move as a responsible first step and Republicans frame it as a unilateral power grab that won’t help national security or the long-term cause of immigration reform.
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