The lame duck session in Congress begins Nov. 15 for a week, then resumes after Thanksgiving. Here is a look at some of the top issues expected to be addressed.
Taxes: President Obama supports renewing most of the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, but not those for families with exceeding $250,000. Emboldened Republicans will insist the cuts be extended for all, however, and many observers think a one- or two-year extension of everything is likely. Otherwise, it will fall to the new Congress to decide, with changes made retroactively. Of a more pressing nature, already-expired tax cuts, such as relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax and extension of such popular deductions as those for state and local taxes and breaks for college tuition, must be addressed or taxpayers will lose them when they file next year. More than 26 million families would face tax bills averaging $2,600 higher because of the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Medicare payments: As they always do, lawmakers are likely to address a 1997 law that is forcing lower payments to doctors, who already face a 23 percent cut in reimbursements, with another 6.5 percent cut looming on Jan. 1.
Jobless benefits: Without action, about 2 million long-term unemployed people will lose benefits starting Dec. 1.
Spending: One of the few sure bets is that Congress will find a way to avoid a government shutdown when a stopgap spending bill expires Dec. 3. Some lawmakers are holding out the possibility of wrapping all 12 unfinished spending bills for the budget year that began Oct. 1 into a massive $1.1 trillion catchall bill, but that is a long shot, given the election results. Instead, another stopgap bill freezing budgets, perhaps until March, is needed to avoid a shutdown.
Nuclear weapons: Senate Democrats, led by John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, want to ratify the new START treaty between the United States and Russia that would cut each nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Don’t ask, don’t tell: The annual defense policy bill, which has been passed every year for five decades, is caught in a standoff in the Senate over the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy on homosexuals serving in the military. Senators may get a push when the Pentagon early next month releases its study of how it would implement ending the policy. Also, pressure from a pending court ruling ending the policy could weigh on senators.
Social Security: Before the election, Democrats promised a vote on legislation to award a $250 payment to Social Security recipients, who are not receiving a cost-of-living hike this year. But the measure failed to get a majority in the Senate earlier this year, much less the 60 votes required to beat a filibuster. It probably will not pass.