The work of the lame duck

Congress is scheduled to return on November 15 for what is known as a lame duck session – a post-election period when members who have been voted out of office return to Washington to continue work prior to January when the new Congress will be sworn in.

Members will work for a week, take a week off for Thanksgiving and then return. They have a great deal to do. Issues Congress will consider include:

  • 2001 and 2003 tax cuts
  • FY 2011 appropriations bills
  • Unemployment Insurance


The 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts are set to expire on December 31. There seems to be broad agreement among Congress and the Administration that the tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers should be extended, at a cost of approximately $3 trillion over 10 years. At issue are the tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent. Extending the tax cuts for them would add approximately $700 billion to the price tag.

Appropriations for FY 2011

Congress failed to pass any of the 12 appropriations bills which annually fund discretionary programs. To continue funding programs in the new fiscal year which began on October 1, Congress passed two stopgap continuing resolutions (CR’s), the last one set to expire on December 3. The CR funds most appropriated programs at their FY 2010 levels. The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees have been working to come to agreement on funding levels for FY 2011. Congress could bundle all 12 bills into an omnibus spending bill, or it could pass another CR and let the new Congress finish the work next year.

Unemployment Insurance

In July, Congress extended federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of November. Unless Congress acts during the lame duck session, the unemployed will once again face the abrupt termination of their unemployment compensation.

A great resource for tracking the work of Congress is the Coalition on Human Needs.