Lame-Duck Congress Faces Big To-Do List but Little Time
The House and Senate have returned to Washington as the country enters an extremely unpredictable post-election season. After delaying so much critical work until after the election, Congress has a long to-do list, including funding the government and trying to pass a fifth coronavirus relief deal. Both the House and Senate want to wrap up their work for the year by mid-December.
Overshadowing this pressing agenda is the unprecedented battle resulting from Trump and his administration refusing to concede the election he lost on November 3. For several weeks, that refusal prevented the normal transition to a new administration. Now that they are back in Washington, Republicans are facing questions about whether Trump should concede and what they expect from a Biden administration.
Although candidates who won House and Senate elections are already on Capitol Hill for orientation, the final makeup of Congress is still up for grabs. The House will be controlled by Democrats, but the Senate majority will depend on the outcome of two races in Georgia with early January runoffs.
Before they adjourn for the year, Congress has two major legislative priorities: funding the government before the continuing resolution stopgap funding ends on December 11 and trying to get a deal on a long-stalled fifth coronavirus deal.
Though both McConnell and Pelosi say they want an agreement on coronavirus aid, they remain deeply split over what provisions should be included. The House has passed a bill providing $2.2 trillion in additional funding, the Trump administration has agreed to $1.9 trillion but, the Senate has only offered $500 billion. With the virus spiraling out of control, pressure for a deal will mount.
McConnell, speaking in Kentucky in late November, doubled down on wanting a smaller bill. The GOP leader, who has let the administration take the lead in talks with Democrats, is reportedly expected to be more hands-on in the final stretch of the year.
Both McConnell and Pelosi have signaled that they will attempt to pass an omnibus appropriations bill, which would wrap all 12 full-year funding bills together, rather than a continuing resolution that would continue funding at fiscal 2020 levels. Although Trump has said that he would never sign another omnibus funding bill, the administration has signaled that he is open to a deal.
Congress also still needs to negotiate and pass a final National Defense Authorization Act. This bill, which funds the military, has passed in each of the past 57 years. Both the House and Senate passed versions earlier this year that included language requiring the changing of the names of U.S. military bases named after Confederate officers. While it may seem an odd place to make a stand when considering a $738 billion measure, Trump has threatened a veto if the language is not dropped from the bill.
Both parties in the House and Senate have had their leadership elections for the next Congress that begins in January 2021. Pelosi will remain House Speaker, with Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as Majority Leader and James Clyburn (D-SC) as Majority Whip. Republicans have reelected Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Minority Leader and Steve Scalise as Minority Whip. McConnell and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been reelected to lead their parties in the Senate. But which of the two will be Majority Leader depends on the outcome of the two January runoffs in Georgia.