What is a Lame Duck session of Congress?
A Lame Duck session of Congress occurs after an election and before the start of a new Congressional session. This year’s lame duck will take place between November 7th and January 3rd.
Why does a Lame Duck session of Congress matter this year?
Last month, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, a trillion-dollar spending package (H.R. 6157) combining DOD & L-HHS-Education appropriations with a continuing resolution funding the rest of the government into the heart of the lame duck—December 7th. This sets up a lame duck session of Congress that is full of potential legislative action which is likely to include a fight around funding for the President’s proposed border wall.
Legislative Items for Lame Duck
Below is a list of several legislative items that may be considered during this year’s lame duck and the corresponding conservative position. They include:
1. Border Security and Internal Enforcement. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was included in the Cromnibus and expires December 7th. Currently, the bill does not contain President Trump’s $5 billion request for border wall funding nor does it enhance internal enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. The American people deserve an immigration system that secures our borders, upholds the rule of law, and encourages legal immigration based on merit. These positions are supported by the majority of Americans and why they elected President Trump to the White House.
Conservatives should oppose a DHS funding bill that does not include border wall funding and internal enforcement. Conservatives should also seek to limit the size and scope of amnesty in any potential larger immigration deal.
2. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization. In May, Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-03) introduced The Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services for Success Act (H.R. 5861). This legislation would strengthen work requirements for able-bodied adults in exchange for TANF welfare benefits. According to Robert Rector, an expert on welfare reform at The Heritage Foundation:
This bill embodies the principle that able-bodied recipients should work or prepare for work as a condition for receiving aid. Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans agree with that principle. The bill builds upon the success of welfare reform enacted in 1996, which dramatically reduced welfare dependence and child poverty. Measured properly, the poverty rate of married parents is less than half of what it was before welfare reform. This bill will continue that progress.
Conservatives should support the JOBS for Success Act and work to continue reforming federal welfare programs.
3. Farm Bill Reauthorization. In April, Rep. Michael Conaway (TX-11) introduced The Agriculture Improvement Act (H.R. 2). This legislation reauthorizes agriculture, nutrition, conservation, trade, energy, forestry, rural development, and other Agriculture Department programs. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long sought reforms to both the welfare and agricultural sides of the farm bill, including work requirements for food stamps and an overall decrease in government subsidies, price controls, and regulation. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate Agriculture committee bills failed these goals. The Senate version does nothing to strengthen work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), a provision that was at least attempted by the House committee in its approved version of the farm bill. The Farm Bill conference committee was unable to produce a report prior to October recess, likely setting up potential legislative action in the lame duck.
Conservatives should oppose the Farm Bill conference report if the House food stamp reform provisions are removed. If work requirements are not included, Congress should pass a clean one-year extension and try again next year.
4. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Reauthorization. In July, the House passed an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program to November 30th, bringing the program right into the lame duck session of Congress. Unfortunately, this bill contains zero bipartisan reforms (including those found in H.R. 2874) that would move the program toward privatization and protect taxpayer dollars. Diane Katz, a senior research fellow in Regulatory Policy at the Heritage Foundation, explains the problems with the NFIP:
The federal government holds a monopoly on primary flood insurance for homeowners and businesses, and the program is debt-ridden and dysfunctional. A large proportion of the flood-risk maps are obsolete, and thus the premiums charged under the National Flood Insurance Program do not reflect actual risk. Because property owners do not bear the full cost of flood risk, they are more likely to locate in flood-prone areas and less likely to undertake preventive measures. The devastation of natural disasters is worsened as a result. Tinkering with operational reforms cannot remedy a program designed by Congress to be financially unsound. A private market in flood insurance is the ultimate solution.
Conservatives should oppose a straight extension of the NFIP that puts taxpayers at greater risk and does nothing to move the program toward privatization.
5. Pension Bailouts (The Butch Lewis Act). In November 2017, Sen. Brown (D-OH) introduced S. 2147. Using taxpayer dollars, this legislation would bailout private-sector pensions through loans and direct cash assistance. Heritage Foundation research fellow Rachel Greszler sums up the problems with this legislation in her article Why Government Loans to Private Union Pensions Would Be Bailouts-and Could Cost Taxpayers More than Cash Bailouts:
Less than one of every 500 workers and retirees who have union-run pensions belongs to a well-funded pension plan. To avoid workers bearing the consequences of irresponsible pension management by their employer and union trustees, plan advocates and some policymakers want taxpayers to bail out private-sector union pensions through highly subsidized government loans and other forms of assistance. Bailouts are never a good idea. They encourage more of the same type of mismanagement, negligence, and even corruption that contributed to the original problem. Bailing out pensions will only encourage businesses and unions to do more of the same—promising plush future pension benefits while failing to set aside the funds to pay for those promises.
Congress convened a Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pension Plans and the PBGC in an effort to address the solvency of these plans. The committee is set to vote on a report and legislative recommendations by November 30th.
Congress should not pass legislation authorizing a pension bailout, but if they do, this legislation should minimize the cost to taxpayers, prohibit any future bailout, and include labor reform including union recertification.
6. Tax Extenders. In December 2017, Sen. Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Tax Extenders Act of 2017 (S. 2256). This legislation would extend expiring special interest tax provisions called tax extenders. According to Heritage Foundation policy analyst Adam Michel, extending tax extenders is harmful. Michel writes:
Congress should not upend the success of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by reanimating dozens of expired tax preferences. This year’s package of so-called tax extenders extends targeted temporary tax provisions—most of which expired in 2016—for a variety of business operations, individual expenses, and specific industries. Narrowly tailored tax benefits are bad tax policy and destructive economic policy. They are made even worse when such subsidies masquerade as a temporary policy but remain an ongoing permanent feature of the tax code.
Congress should allow all 35 tax extenders to expire, but if they do pass legislation, it should include pro-growth tax reform including immediate expensing for business investment and individual tax cut permanency found in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
7. United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). On September 30th, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada reached a consensus on a new trilateral North American free trade agreement, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) or NAFTA 2.0. Congress will have a chance to review the terms of the new deal during lame duck but an official vote is unlikely to take place until next session of Congress. Conservatives should carefully review the agreement and support free trade.
8. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was set to expire on Sept. 30th but was included in the continuing resolution attached to the DOD & L-HHS-Education bill that will fund the rest of the government to December 7th. Don’t let VAWA’s deceptive name fool you—it is filled with harmful, ineffective, and dubiously grounded policy. Under VAWA, men effectively lose their constitutional rights to due process, presumption of innocence, equal treatment under the law, the right to a fair trial and to confront one's accusers, the right to bear arms, and all custody/visitation rights. It is unprecedented, unnecessary, and dangerous. Conservatives lawmakers should allow VAWA to expire.
Historically, lame duck sessions of Congress end up poorly for conservative policy proposals as retiring lawmakers are not held accountable to voters, however, this does not have to be the case this year. If grassroots conservatives are supportive and engaged, Congress can use the lame duck to advance conservative reforms regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections.