Congress is going back home so individual members can ask for you to send them back for another two years. Rather than recap the work that has or hasn’t been done, it is instructive to learn what Congress pushed back to the lame duck session to decide after you have given them your vote.
There are four issues that figure to be featured prominently in the lame duck: funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, a criminal justice bill which was too hot to handle during the regular session, ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a water resources bill known as WRDA.
While Congress did pass a funding bill before the end of the previous fiscal year, that bill only covers funding through December 9, 2016, guaranteeing another opportunity for President Obama and current Congressional leaders to set spending priorities.
This debate will largely be driven by Democrat threats to shut down the government over Christmas if their pet projects are not included in an even more bloated government. The GOP will send out press releases urging fiscal restraint, but if previous negotiations are any indication, will give in to Harry Reid’s last gasp demands and declare it a victory that they are out of session before Santa comes down the chimney.
The criminal justice bill is a different animal. While Speaker Paul Ryan is the leading advocate in the House for the legislation, he faces stiff opposition within his own party on the bill. On the Senate side, Senator Mitch McConnell faces an even more split Republican delegation as Congress grapples with whether they should release major drug traffickers early onto the streets of America. As crime and claims of unfairness in the justice system become dominant themes in the November election, this issue may very well be decided by what Members of Congress hear from voters about whether they sympathize with the tough job facing police or with those who claim victimhood.
The water bill is usually a pretty arcane item on the legislative agenda, but it was thrust into prominence as Republicans promised to send hundreds of millions of dollars to Flint, Mich. in response to their self-inflicted water crisis (this is not to diminish the problem, but it was created by bad choices by Flint’s local officials.) It is anticipated a series of other water projects will also be funded through the bill as it becomes a veritable Christmas tree for western and other interests before it passes into law.
Finally, and the biggest fight, will be over passage of TPP in the House and Senate. There will be a number of issues brought up and argued on this issue related to the pharmaceutical industry and others, but the main battlefield will be over the exporting of what remains of the U.S. manufacturing sector to the eleven other nations involved in the deal, and the transfer of the ability of future Congress’ and Executives to make laws and regulations without review by a foreign unelected tribunal.
Once again, Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell will be the primary advocates for passage of the TPP, and given the narrow margin of victory last year on fast track trade authority, they don’t have many votes to spare. Already nine House Republicans who voted for fast track have publicly pledged not to support TPP in the lame duck. Additionally, should Donald Trump become the President-elect, there will be heavy pressure on his early supporters in Congress to pull out all the stops to prevent passage of the treaty.
Ultimately, the fate of TPP will be decided by whether or not members of Congress hear from their constituents while they are campaigning to oppose it or not. Once back in D.C., the corporate crony lobbyists and campaign funders will be in the ear of every member demanding passage, and unless voters make a strong impression in face to face meetings between now and election day, history tells us Ryan and the establishment cronies will likely win.
And that is the point of this piece – right now voters have a chance to get face to face with their members to let them know they expect fiscal restraint, no TPP and to oppose letting major drug traffickers out of jail early. If members don’t hear that before the election, they certainly won’t listen once they get back into the comfy confines of Capitol Hill. The time is now to stop bad legislation from passing in the lame duck.
The author is president of Americans for Limited Government.