Members of Congress started out this week conducting symbolic political votes in order to pay back their Democratic base for their support in the past election. The Senate voted and failed to advance the following bills:
- The DREAM Act.
- "Dont ask, dont tell" Defense department policy.
- The 9/11 health care bill.
- A $250 dollar Social Security check for retirees in lieu of an annual COLA.
- Firefighters' collective bargaining bill.
The House considered the DREAM Act and passed it just prior to the Senate vote. Once the Senate concluded these pay-back votes, they actually got down to work and considered a couple of expiring legislative items that were postponed earlier in the year by the leadership.
Earlier in the year, the Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi Congress punted on a treasure trove of legislative items, all in an effort to protect their members from casting politically sensitive votes before the elections. One of those punted legislative items that Congress was able to consider this week is a one year doctor fix bill, which delays a cut to doctors and hospitals that see Medicare patients. Their cut was scheduled to occur at the end of the month and amount to 23 percent. By the end of the week, the president signed the bill making it law.
The House then tackled funding the federal government. Again, this huge funding bill was necessary because Congress failed to pass a single one of the 12 required appropriations bills which make up the full funding of our federal government. Following a dramatic House vote, whereby the speaker had to come running onto the floor and cast her vote, the bill passed and headed to the Senate. When the Senate considers this bill next week, the intent is to try to change the date so Congress can consider it properly early next year.
In the meantime, early in the week the president signed onto a global tax agreement with congressional GOP leaders. This agreement extends all of the Bush tax cuts for two years and also extends unemployment benefits for another 13 months. The bill also includes some business tax incentives that expired in December of 2009. This agreement outraged most of the Democrats in Congress.
Notwithstanding the ire coming from the House Democrats, the Senate majority leader initiated consideration of the global tax agreement late on Thursday, Dec. 9. This will result in a procedural vote on Monday, Dec. 13 at 3 p.m. Most Hill watchers believe that the Senate will be able to advance the bill, thereby requiring House consideration by the middle of next week.
The Senate will then have to deal with the full government funding bill which had been waiting in the wings for the Senate to move the tax bill. This funding bill will face opposition from the Senate GOP because they want a shorter extension of the funding. This is in an effort to cut the overall spending levels contained in the bill by early next year.
This date change effort will be another hard lift for the Senate Republicans. However, if the tax bill is a success for Senate Republicans earlier next week, then this date change might also be a success for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The first test of the global tax agreement will occur on Monday of next week in the Senate. Stay tuned to see if the agreement will remain intact as it makes its way through the halls of Congress.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of Gradegov.com.