Republicans’ heady win on Election Day, in which they regained control of the U.S. Senate and increasing their majority in the House, soon will give way to sober reality.
While awaiting their newly elected colleagues’ arrival in January, GOP lawmakers will be faced with a “lame duck” session that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has designs upon.
They know the Nevada Democrat is sure to have his own ideas about how to usher in the final two years of President Obama before Republicans take charge of the Senate.
Republicans picked up seven seats Tuesday night, decisively shifting the balance of power in the upper chamber. They could gain two more seats, as races in Virginia and Alaska have yet to be officially called and Louisiana will be determined after a Dec. 6 runoff.
In the House, the GOP netted 14 seats for the largest GOP majority since the 1920s.
But as Republicans revel in their sweeping victory, Democrats — including ousted representatives and senators — are preparing to return to Washington for their last two months of legislating. Known as a lame duck session, the last few weeks of the 113th Congress provide an opportunity for spending bills and contested measures to be brought before the House and Senate.
“All sorts of controversial issues and massive bills could be brought up when We the People think it’s safe to turn our attention away from Washington and enjoy family, fall and football,” Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint wrote in a commentary. The former Republican senator from South Carolina said of the outgoing majority leader:
“Harry Reid has been clear in his desire to preserve corporate welfare for big ‘green’ energy companies by tying it to good, ‘must pass’ tax provisions, instead of waiting until next year to consider them separately.”
With roughly five weeks left to the end of the session, the House and Senate have some unfinished legislative business. A bill to fund the government likely will top the list of priorities, since the stopgap spending measure lawmakers passed before returning home to campaign is set to expire Dec. 11.
The Senate has yet to act on several presidential nominations as well as the National Defense Authorization Act and a bill that would allow states to collect an additional sales tax from online retailers. In September, Reid announced that lawmakers would tackle those issues in the final weeks of the year.
“We have a lot to do in the lame duck,” Reid said. “I don’t want to limit it to this, but these things are on my mind.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won re-election and is poised to take over as majority leader, said around the same time that he didn’t believe the Senate would attempt to pass controversial legislation during the lame duck session because Republicans control the House.
Fresh from victory, the Kentucky Republican yesterday said there still is much for the Senate to tackle.
“The Senate hasn’t been doing anything, so there’s a whole lot of things just sitting there,” McConnell said at a press conference in Louisville.
Conservatives, though, aren’t resting on their laurels.
Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal:
Lame duck will be the first test for an understandably jubilant Republican Party. Allowing defeated and retiring lawmakers to make substantive decisions in a post-election session would be a slap in the face to voters who sent a very clear message to Washington last night.
In January, though, Republicans will be in control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, and McConnell said he looks forward to moving Congress forward.
“We are going to function,” he said. “This gridlock and dysfunction can be ended. It can be ended by having a Senate that actually works.”
Conservatives see openings for bold measures in energy independence, school choice, transportation and higher education. For example, the HERO Act, introduced early this year by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is designed to widen opportunities for higher education.
Reid sounded a conciliatory note yesterday in the wake of his party’s resounding defeat at the polls.
“The message from voters is clear,” Reid said in a prepared statement. “They want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”
In Louisville, McConnell told reporters the GOP will tackle Obamacare at the start of the 114th Congress, since many members have pushed for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He said he wants to get rid of the health care law, but that lawmakers will decide on a course of action once they return to Washington.
“We will be addressing that issue in a variety of ways,” he said.
President Obama, however, said shortly afterward at the White House that he would not sign a repeal of his signature legislative achievement if Congress were to pass it next year.
McConnell also addressed signs that the president intends to effectively stop deportations of illegal immigrants — a move the Senate’s top Republican said would be a “big mistake.”
“It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull,” McConnell said. “It would poison the well.”
In his own press conference, Obama signaled he would take executive action on the immigration system before year’s end. He told reporters:
What I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.
Despite continuing to indicate he will bypass Congress to move illegal immigrants toward citizenship — what opponents consider amnesty for lawbreakers — the president said he expects to work with Republicans. He will welcome Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House on Friday:
“I’m eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible. I’m committed to making sure that I measure ideas not by whether they are from Democrats or Republicans, but whether they work for the American people.”
For the new Republican Congress, Holler said, 2015 will offer a chance for the GOP to get back to Main Street roots.
“Come January, there will be an opportunity for the Republican Party to shed it’s negative, party-of-big-business image,” the Heritage Action spokesman said, adding:
“By putting forward an agenda that promotes opportunity for all, the party can potentially score some policy victories. But even more important, though, will be demonstrating an agenda that can unite Americans around conservative principles. The details matter, but the opportunity is tremendous.”