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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Getting Our (Lame) Ducks Lined Up

House Dems have got two months to kick butt. OK, less, considering the Christmas vacation and holiday slow down. I have no doubt Speaker Pelosi will do the best possible job with the resources she has. But it would be good for Dem rank and file activists to pay close attention during this period, because it’s likely to be the last chance for positive legislative action before the party of Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis takes over the House. After that, it’s pure defense for at least a couple of years.
Time to give all of the finger-pointing, hand-wringing and Monday-morning quarterbacking a rest and get focused on helping Pelosi, Reid and Obama get something done. Toward that end, the editors of The Nation have a good read, “An Agenda for the Lame-Duck Congress” to get the juices stirring again. Here’s an excerpt:

…The period after an election is not set aside for rearranging furniture; Congress sits for two years, not twenty-two months, and it’s supposed to do its job for the entire term. That doesn’t mean Democrats should be blind to the election results; to the contrary, they should respond to them–while getting things done for the American people….
…Pelosi is smart to link the defense of healthcare reform, financial regulation and long-term commitments to maintaining Social Security with the need to create jobs. She can highlight the linkage during the lame-duck session by focusing on fundamentals: extending unemployment benefits, shoring up Medicare and Medicaid, and assuring that a stopgap spending bill contains funding not just to keep the federal government operating into the next year but to help state and local governments and school districts across the country do the same. These are all popular initiatives; Pelosi and Harry Reid–who still controls the Senate for the next two years–have no reason to accept the conventional wisdom that the election produced a mandate for conservative ideas, neglecting the plight of jobless Americans, cutting social services or forcing teacher layoffs in the middle of the school year.
…Democrats should take the moment to argue for letting the Bush tax cuts expire and using the new revenue to maintain federal, state and local services in tough economic times…If compromise is necessary, the only credible one is giving relief to working families–not billionaires. The American people will get the point if Democrats make it aggressively and without apology.
Pelosi should also move the Fair Elections Now Act onto the floor for a vote, advancing a debate on an issue that Republicans don’t want discussed. We just finished the most expensive midterm election in US history; shouldn’t House and Senate committees hold hearings to look at how much was spent by corporations and billionaires, at the impact of that money on the elections and at the influence it will have on government? Republicans will scream, and incoming House Oversight chair Darrell Issa will surely shut down those hearings in January while opening hundreds of investigations on Democratic reforms. Bring it on. In her new role as minority leader, Pelosi could use her bully pulpit to ask essential questions. What is the GOP trying to hide? What do Republicans want to roll back? That’s a fighting stance, not a surrender position.

That’s a lot to take on in a short time, and there may not be time to do justice the the last idea. Joan McCarter flags an even more ambitious agenda in her recent post at Daily Kos, including:

Not a single spending bill has passed. A stopgap bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown.
…Without action by Congress, 2 million unemployed people will lose jobless benefits averaging about $300 a week nationwide by the end of December. It’s by no means a sure thing that the benefits could be extended in the post-election session….
…Taxes: Obama supports renewing most of the Bush-era tax cuts, but not those for family income exceeding $250,000. Emboldened Republicans will insist, however, and with Democrats splintered, many observers think a one- or two-year extension of everything is most likely. Otherwise, it’ll fall to the new Congress to decide. Already expired tax cuts, like AMT relief, are likely to get done in the lame duck.
…Unemployment benefits: Congress has always extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed when the jobless rate has been this high. But it took months earlier this year for Congress to extend jobless benefits through the end of November, and Republicans are likely to insist that any further extension be financed by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. That could limit any extension to just a couple of months.
…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….

And McCarter adds,

That doesn’t include the masses of judges and executive appointees that haven’t been confirmed. Nor does it include the DREAM Act, which Harry Reid needs to make good on his promise to the Latino community that was absolutely instrumental to his reelection. Nor does it include the bogged down defense spending bill and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now on the record urging Congress to accomplish.

Whew! It will be a miracle if Dems get half of it passed. Pelosi and Reid will select the most doable priorities, the Republicans will go into full obstruction mode and Dem activists will have to mobilize to get it done. All hands on deck.

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