Image for Congress Returns for Meaty Lame Duck Session
Between now and mid-December, the outgoing Democratically controlled Congress will make decisions ranging from an omnibus spending bill, a debt ceiling increase, more aid to Ukraine and codifying same-sex marriage. While Democrats will continue to control the Senate next year, which party will rule the House remains up in the air. [Illustration from Politico]

Issues Include FY 23 Spending, More Ukraine Aid and Same-Sex Marriage

Congress returned Monday for a meaty lame duck session as control of the House next year remains undecided after a red wave failed to materialize in the midterm election. While Democrats will remain in control of the Senate, Republicans are looking at a challenge to the caucus leadership of Mitch McConnell.

Lame duck topics include an omnibus Fiscal Year 2023 spending bill, more military and financial aid to Ukraine, codifying same-sex marriage and a debt ceiling increase. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is pushing for permitting changes that he negotiated in exchange for his vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. Idaho Republican Senator Mike Simpson wants to increase the number of legal foreign workers on farms. There also is legislation to poke at Saudi officials for rolling back oil production levels.

FY 2023 Omnibus Spending Bill
Before adjourning for the midterm elections, Congress approved a continuing resolution that expires December 16. Neither party wants responsibility for closing down the federal government before the holidays, so a deal is relatively certain. It’s just the spending levels that are unclear.

The omnibus spending bill that finally emerges for negotiations will be the swan song for retiring Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

House Democrats may push aggressively for pet spending measures on the prospect control of the lower chamber reverts to Republicans next year. Current predictions indicate Republicans may control with a slim majority, far less than pre-election speculation.

A bipartisan majority presumably will agree to secure emergency funding to cover wildfire and hurricane damage

Ukrainian Military and Humanitarian Aid
President Biden is pressing for more aid, a request buoyed by Ukrainian recapture of the critical southern city of Kherson, which Russian soldiers overran at the beginning of the invasion. Winter conditions are settling in, which may slow offensive and counter offensive moves by Ukraine and Russia, turning the war into a battle of missiles and artillery.

Biden and European allies have signaled a willingness to give Ukraine more advanced anti-missile weapons to limit damage to civilian infrastructure such as power and water plants. Right-wing Republicans have vocally opposed more aid to Ukraine, even though the aid provided so far has been approved by bipartisan majorities on both sides of the Hill. Bipartisan support is expected to continue, but there are more voices urging Biden to push for negotiations with Russia.

Codifying Same-Sex Marriage
There appears to be bipartisan willingness to codify same-sex marriage to head off a legal challenge that could reach the Supreme Court and its six conservative justice majority.

Debt Ceiling Increase
If Democrats had retained control of Congress next session, this issue wouldn’t be on the table for the lame duck session. The prospect of narrow Republican control of the House next session changes the political calculus. A vote in the lame duck session could prevent a showdown in the next Congress under split political control.

Debt ceiling votes are magnets for other issues and red meat demagoguery. Raising the debt ceiling is required to ensure the federal government can pay the bills it already has approved without a default that can affect a nation’s credit rating. Despite that, some congressional members assail the vote as more profligate spending. Negotiations for successful debt ceiling votes are usually conducted in private, so no action may occur until the end of the lame duck session in mid-December.

Permitting Changes
Progressive House Democrats thwarted the permitting changes Manchin earned in his negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Now Manchin is looking at attaching his pro-industry changes to the National Defense Authorization Act. Biden has tacitly given his okay, but House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, is mounting a drive inside and outside Congress to block Manchin.

If there is too much opposition from House progressives, Senate leaders may punt the legislation until next year and focus on clearing as many federal judiciary appointments as possible. A pending water project measure could be adversely affected, or it possibly could sneak through as a House-Senate conference committee compromise, another byproduct of lame duck sessions.

Bipartisan support exists to increase the number of legal migrant farmworkers to address persistent farm labor shortages, increase food production and reduce food prices.

More Legal Farmworkers and Dreamer Protection
With the backing of agricultural groups, Simpson has won bipartisan and bicameral support to increase the number of legal immigrant farmworkers. Simpson’s proposal received a boost when the Cato Institute concluded that more farmworkers would increase food production and lower consumer prices.

Advocates for Dreamers, who immigrated to the United States as minors and graduated from a US high schools, are pushing for legislation that provides them a secure future. Their status has been uncertain under a mix of executive actions.

Swatting at Saudis, OPEC
There is bipartisan congressional disgruntlement over OPEC’s decision to reduce oil product by 2 million barrels. The likely response is authorization to the Justice Department to sue cartels, including OPEC, for antitrust behavior. The measure has already cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a pet bill for Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who was just re-elected. Grassley, 89, has served in the Senate since 1981.