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Monday, November 15, 2010

Lame Duck Day

Statue of Liberty replica, seeming frozen in the ice of Lake Mendota
Only in Madison, Wisconsin... More than once, the Statue of Liberty has appeared to be frozen in the ice of Lake Mendota, like a scene from some Japanese snow monkey version of Planet of the Apes. For years, people visiting the Capitol would drive past a giant fiberglass fish, sitting atop a two-story secondhand store called "The Buy-Sell Shop," just three blocks away. That space is now an entertainment complex housing a bar, a bar, and -- I'm pretty sure -- a bar. And one year, then-Mayor Paul Soglin showed up to a City Council meeting wearing a duck costume, complete with crutches and a prop cast on his leg, to acknowledge his status as a lame duck. It's a weird place.

Likewise, Washington DC is a weird place. Unfortunately, not in a good way -- at least, not the government part of it. Don't expect Nancy Pelosi to wear the lame duck suit anytime soon. And, let's face it, that's probably a good thing. If Republican leadership are anything, they're serious, serious people -- or, at least, serious acting people. Like funeral directors, they only seem to frown. Somehow, they'd turn a display of self-depreciating humor into an act of anti-American mockery that only helps the terrorists. This lame duck session is going to be no fun. And all that no fun starts today.

If history is any guide, we may not see much happen during this period of waiting, unless it absolutely has to happen. And even then, it may not. If Republicans are serious about a shutdown of government, it'll happen before December 2, when a spending authorization bill must be passed. If they're somewhat less serious, they'll negotiate a stopgap spending measure that will fund government at least until the new House majority is sworn in. Or, of course, there's also the possibility -- slim though it may be -- that they'll be more reasonable in victory than they have been in defeat and help pass an honest-to-goodness spending measure. We'll see. But it won't be very long before we see if they unfurl their "No Compromise!" banner or whether all that talk of being unyielding jerks about everything was just red meat for the chumps. Here's hoping it was the latter.

The term "budget reconciliation" is likely to make an appearance again, as many of the measures this remaining session will be budget related. An extension of unemployment benefits, a defense authorization bill, and of course the Bush tax giveaway -- this last must be dealt with in this congress or everyone's taxes will increase.

Harry Reid has a 400 bills passed by the House that the Senate will have to deal with, so that will become an omnibus -- that's going to be a huge bill, so expect Republicans to grandstand about it, even though its very existence is their own damned fault for practicing obstructionism in the Senate. Really, there's a pretty comprehensive catalog of legislation they'll take a crack at at Firedoglake, so go check that out if you want the skinny on everything. It looks like a lot, but it really isn't. Most of these things will live or die pretty quickly. Harry Reid says the DREAM Act, which is a fairly modest reform to immigration, is a priority. And the President wants a ratified START Treaty on his desk this session.

If you want a preview of what the remaining days of the 111th congress will look like, just look at what it has been like. It'll be Democrats getting things done, while Republicans engage in histrionic hairtearing and howls that America is being destroyed from within. In short, it probably isn't go to be anymore rational a process than it has been. Here's my wishlist; a Senate rule change either narrowing the use of the filibuster or increasing the number of votes it takes to sustain one, letting the tax beaks for the top two percent expire, and extending unemployment benefits. Whether I'll get my wishes is another question.

It's the last of the 111th and the 112th is guaranteed to be a basketcase of a congress, so there's a little more urgency with this lame duck session than with most. The next congress will be the classic do-nothing congress, because Republicans have decided that the best strategy in the world is complaining about Obama and Democrats while literally doing as little as possible. They're a party in a holding pattern, waiting until 2012. And they want everything to stay in stasis until then. They do only the absolute bare minimum -- or, as I said, perhaps not even that -- and then complain that nothing's getting done and try to blame everything on President Obama. I'm not normally a big fan of prognostication, but this all just seems so obvious. I don't think you'd get rich betting against it.

And all the while, you and me and the rest of the country will just sit. Nothing will move, nothing will happen, we'll be like that Statue of Liberty was, out on the lake -- seemingly frozen in ice.


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