Many federal transportation stakeholders have long believed that should Congress be unable to pass a federal transportation bill this spring or summer, the most likely back-up plan is to pass a transportation bill in the post-election lame duck session. Here are two reasons that back-up plan is unlikely to work.
First, the premise: that Congress would be unable to agree on a transportation bill before the election, and would postpone further work into the lame duck. Earlier this year the speculation was that one of the Chambers wouldn’t even pass a transportation bill. Now the speculation is the Senate and House will be unable to reconcile their proposals and will punt, extending the bill into the lame duck.
There are two reasons Congress is unlikely to pass a new bill, and instead will extend SAFETEA-LU, in a lame duck session.
1. The logistics are against it. Congress will likely have only about four weeks to deal with a multitude of issues. True, there are about seven weeks between Election Day and January 2 when the sequester-triggered spending cuts are scheduled to occur. But holidays will cut out two weeks to three weeks. Figure another week off right after the election. There simply won’t be enough time to deal with all the issues that are being postponed to the lame duck session.
2. Other issues will trump transportation. First and foremost will be a 2013 budget, and dealing with the looming sequestration spending reductions and expiring tax cuts. Other issues that likely will need to be addressed and could trump transportation: payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits, doctors’ Medicare payments, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and the estate tax and the renewal of a tax-extenders package. Other issues that could get postponed to the lame duck session include major legislation like the renewal of the Farm Bill.
Perhaps the best predictor that the lame duck session will be “chaotic [and] high-stakes” is that lobbyists are already cancelling their November/December vacations. One lobbyist advises others to complete their holiday shopping before the election.
The Hill somewhat breathlessly observed that “Many on K Street are living in fear of the lame-duck session that will begin when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after ballots are cast.”
Another complicating factor is that some Members who lost on Election Day may be distracted, notes Stan Collender in Roll Call:
“Many of the Representatives and Senators who will not be returning to Congress next year will be more focused on getting a job, packing up their offices and moving their families than on what’s happening in their committees or being debated on the floor”
The silver lining: Congress seems to be at its best and most productive when up against a hard deadline. Perhaps the January 2 sequester deadline will cause it to clear a number of bills.
Bottom line: if renewing a transportation bill is postponed into the lame duck, look for another extension into Spring 2013.
Learn more from these stories:
Expect Less, Not More, in Lame-Duck Session, Roll Call