Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What comes after the storm?


U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican, is the junior senator for Idaho. He has served in the Senate since 1999.

By MIKE CRAPO

Trivia question: What is a lame duck?

a) A Finnish punk/rock/pop band.

b) A Norwegian ska punk band.

c) A position in tango.

d) A player in a game that cannot win yet remains in the game.

e) All of the above.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, its e, but in politics, it refers to a session held following general elections and prior to the start of the next Congress. The term is said to have originated in the London Stock Exchange in the 18th century and referred to bankrupt businessmen. Punk rock bands, dancing, and broke brokers aside, another lame duck session is upon us again—the 16th in 66 years—and Congress has some serious work to finish as the 109th Session of the U.S. Congress concludes.

As has been the case in lame duck sessions since the mid-1970s, this post-election season will feature the Senate taking up remaining appropriations bills, including the Department of Agriculture; departments of State, Justice, Commerce and science-related agencies; Department of Energy; District of Columbia; foreign operations; departments of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency; departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; Department of Veterans Affairs and military quality of life; departments of Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and funding for the judiciary and legislative branches.

In addition to unfinished agency appropriations bills, the Senate will likely debate a package of tax measures, including an extension of the research and development credit, welfare-to-work credit and deductions for state and local taxes. A scheduled 5 percent reduction in physicians' payments by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may prompt legislation to stop that cut as well.

A look back at past lame duck sessions provides perspective on this year's session and the observation that broad issues facing our nation remain largely constant over the decades:

· 1940-1941: During this lame duck period, Congress sustained the veto of a measure to limit regulatory agency powers, and it published a committee report on sabotage of the defense effort.

· 1942: Congress provided for the military draft of 18- and 19-year-old men.

· 1950-1951: At the time of this lame duck session, our nation faced the prospect of the use of atomic weapons in war for the first time. Priorities for Congress included aid to Yugoslavia, supplemental defense and atomic energy appropriations and statehood for Hawaii and Alaska. When Congress adjourned in January, Yugoslavia had $38 million in famine aid and $18 billion was appropriated for defense, but Alaska's statehood question was to remain unanswered until the new session.

· 1970-1971: Congress passed two of seven regular appropriations bills, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, and a law to create the Community Development Corporation.

· 1974: During this post-war lame duck session, Congress passed trade reform and established federal policy for research on developing non-nuclear energy sources.

· 1980: Considering the impending major power shift in Congress that occurred in 1981, this lame duck session was remarkably productive, including a budget resolution and reconciliation measure, five regular appropriations bills, the historic Superfund bill, and a bill making low-level nuclear waste disposal a state responsibility.

· 2000: In addition to an omnibus appropriations bill, Congress passed the Intelligence Authorization Act and a bankruptcy reform measure which President Clinton pocket-vetoed in his final days in the White House.

One historical assessment calls lame duck sessions to date moderately productive. I'm looking forward to working on the issues facing us during this lame duck session, and I'm optimistic about the prospect of adding even more to our long list of accomplishments of the 109th Congress. (For a list of the accomplishments of the 109th Congress, please go to: http://crapo.senate.gov.)




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