Lame Duck Session: Adjournment Sine Die, the End of the 111th Congress >>

November 11th, 2010


Congress will begin its lame duck session on November 15. The session is dubbed “lame duck” because there are Members of Congress who are returning for the session but will not be back for the next Congress, which starts on Jan. 3, because they lost their races in the November general elections. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” Members participating in a “lame duck” session.

The focus of the lame duck session will be to pass legislation that must be passed this year or that House and Senate Leadership and/or the Administration have indicated are must-pass priorities for this year. It will be difficult to get much national legislation passed during this time period given the slow pace of the Senate and the chair-shuffling going on, especially in the House. Some of Congress’s top priorities will be enactment of legislation to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, addressing the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire on December 31, extension of unemployment insurance benefits to assist thousands of laid-off workers who will begin losing unemployment benefits on November 30, and a freeze on cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements scheduled to occur on December 1.

Before the fiscal year expired on September 30, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government until December 3. During the lame duck session, the Congress must pass another spending bill to fund the government past December 3. With Republican control of the House commencing on January 3, 2011, fiscal conservatives in Congress will likely oppose any spending increases for FY 2011 and will push for a year-long continuing resolution. Congress is in the process of determining whether to pass some sort of continuing resolution during the lame duck session to fund the government at current levels or to pass an omnibus appropriations bill. Continuing resolutions are typically very streamlined as opposed to omnibus bills, which wrap various appropriations bills and related amendments (also known as “riders”) into one big package. Those who support the President’s budget initiatives and who believe that the fragile economy need additional domestic spending will make a push to pass an omnibus appropriations bill.

Many in Indian country are also hopeful that the Congress passes an omnibus appropriations bill during the lame duck session given the much needed spending increases contained in the pending FY 2011 appropriations bills for severely underfunded tribal programs. These programs are part of the federal government’s legal, treaty, and trust obligations to Indian tribes, which ceded hundreds of millions of acres of tribal homelands to the United States.

It is unclear how long the lame duck session will last. However, one measure of the possible length of the rest of the session is the current continuing resolution, which expires on Dec. 3. It rarely happens, if ever, that the Congress gets its work done early.

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