Crowley: Democrats hope to find repeat success with lame duck Congress

I’m thankful for a lot of things this week, but not one of them is the fiscal cliff.

Also, I promise that’s the last trite Thanksgiving joke.

In the waning days of 2010, just after the midterm election that saw Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives, there was a single ray of hope.

Named the Lame Duck Congress, it provided a last-minute opportunity to harangue ousted Democrats and retiring Republicans into supporting progressive bills that were otherwise wasting away in the Senate.

This period, barely a month and a half long, produced two major legislative victories for Democrats. The first was the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that forced thousands of soldiers into the closet, even as they were voluntarily risking their lives overseas.

More cynically, the repeal of this policy allowed the president to quell unrest from that community, who threatened to withhold the lucrative donations and robust ground support they can provide.

The other major bill is comparable to what Democrats hope to accomplish this time around. Facing a similar, albeit smaller, fiscal cliff, Congress passed a bipartisan bill extending all of the Bush tax cuts on higher incomes in exchange for an extension of unemployment insurance for struggling families.

This year, many are looking to the current Lame Duck Congress for similar progress, but it pays to be cautious in this case. Two years ago, Democrats still retained control of both Houses of Congress – we only needed three Republican Senators to flip to our side, while a full eight of them were retiring and able to buck the party.

Since Republicans currently control the House, don’t expect any major pushes for progressive goals like immigration reform.

The balance of power will be roughly the same in January as it is today, leaving room for Congress to push a deal further back. That said, Republicans are very motivated to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff by the end of the year. On January 1, all the Bush-era tax cuts expire and they lose all their bargaining power.

Conversely, some Democrats are calling for leaders to allow the cuts to expire. They feel they can get a better deal once the Republicans are neutered in the New Year. However, moderates in their party would prefer a deal to be done beforehand to avoid instability in the economy.

If anything gets done during the Holidays this year, it might just be a debt deal, but even that seems optimistic. Any kind of grand bargain will take time to work out, so the best anyone can predict is a patchwork bill extending everything for another year or so.

Overall, this year’s Lame Duck session will be a lot less productive than the last. What you will see is a lot of grandstanding from retiring members like Ron Paul and Olympia Snowe in which they use their years of wisdom to warn us about the future.

While it won’t result in any major legislation, more people should listen. If they did, they’d hear a resounding call for bipartisan progress – the kind we need to embrace if we’re to get anything done next year.

Colin Crowley is a senior political science and philosophy major. His column appears online weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @colincrowley.


Top Stories