WASHINGTON — It isn’t much of a surprise that the 107th Congress is ending without much of a record of accomplishment. It had a spurt of success in its early months, passing President George W. Bush’s mammoth tax cut and pushing through a respectable education program, but little has been accomplished since the partisan flip of the Senate in May of last year.
Already two weeks past the scheduled adjournment date for Congress with no end in sight, little real progress is expected on any of the important bills that have piled up in the House and Senate. Foremost among the unpassed bills is the president’s top priority — the bill to create a Department of Homeland Security. It is still stuck with a Senate that won’t budge on employment-rights issues for the civil servants who will be moved into the mammoth new agency and with the president’s people who want to have total control over who works for them. It won’t get unstuck before the Nov. 5 elections.
The government will work under continuing resolutions, since virtually none of the appropriations bills has been passed. The energy bill will likely be left on the conference table, with no hope of working out the differences between the House and Senate conferees that have very different ideas on major issues.
This year’s “lame duck” (postelection) session of Congress could have a unique wrinkle. With the Senate occupied by 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent, the balance of power could be switched for the period of Nov. 6 through Jan. 3 by a quirk of electoral results.
Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan was appointed to fill the seat of her deceased husband until the Nov. 5 general election. If her opponent Jim Talent wins the election, he becomes senator immediately and will serve the remainder of the six-year term for which Carnahan’s late husband was originally elected. The Republicans would then be in the majority in the Senate until Jan. 3 at noon, when the newly elected senators take office.
So, even if the Democrats maintain their precarious majority in that body, the loss of the Missouri seat will put them in the minority for two months. This could unlock a whole host of legislative opportunities for Bush and his conservative pals.
The Senate rules make it tough to get a vote on controversial issues without 60 votes, so there would be no major revolution, but there would be some real differences. The big opportunities would come for nominations as the Republicans would have the majorities on the committees and they would define the agendas. They could move their judicial nominations to the floor for votes and they could get other nominations moving.
The Missouri wrinkle is just one more little item in the mix as lobbyists earn their keep by developing last-minute strategies for passing their favorites among the myriad of log-jammed bills. Should one push hard for the client’s bill now with today’s cast of legislators, or wait for a new deal from the next Congress, or maybe get the single seat change in the rump session? Decisions, decisions — that is why lobbyists have to wear Gucci shoes.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.