By Elizabeth Holland
The 113th Congress returns to Washington today to begin its lame duck session. Given the results of last week’s elections, the next two months will provide the first crucial test of both parties’ ability to cooperate. Democrats are sure to want to use their remaining days in the Senate majority wisely, while Republicans will aim to clear the agenda of several “must-pass” bills so their control of both chambers can start with a clean slate. Congress will need to come together on several pressing issues before the year’s end and, in doing so, may set the tone for the 114th.
This week, the Senate will consider a handful of nominations while the House handles suspension bills, including two of interest to AALL: the Government Reports Elimination Act of 2014 (H.R. 4194) and the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 (H.R. 1233). AALL has opposed H.R. 4194, instead favoring the Access to Congressional Mandated Reports Act (H.R. 1380) for the creation of a free online, searchable database of all mandated reports. However, we are pleased to see that Congress will finally enact Presidential Records Act reform after many years of consideration.
On Thursday, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and House Republicans will all hold their leadership elections. House Democrats are expected to hold theirs on November 18. No top congressional leader is expected to face a major challenge. The formal, public election of the Speaker of the House will take place when the new Congress convenes in January.
The real crunch time will happen after Thanksgiving, when lawmakers must pass legislation to fund the government before the current FY 2015 Continuing Resolution expires on December 11. Leaders of both parties in both chambers say they want to avoid stopgap spending measures and return to the past practice of approving annual spending legislation that allows them to set agencies’ policies. To get back on track, they will need to pass an omnibus bill in the lame duck session.
The willingness of members to find both the time and middle ground to handle big ticket items like immigration reform, the Keystone pipeline, and the recently-announced nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general remains to be seen. A two month temporary truce in the lame duck would offer optimism over Congress’s ability to work together over the next two year.