The Capitol building at dusk.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

In lame-duck session, Republicans set their sights low

Eight years ago this month, the Obama White House put together an ambitious to-do list for the post-election lame-duck session. There was a memorable exchange between then-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Jake Tapper, who covered the White House for ABC News at the time.

TAPPER: So just to put a period on this, the president thinks that funding the government, passing unemployment-insurance extensions “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the DREAM Act, tax cuts, and START all can be done?

GIBBS: Yes.

TAPPER: In the next 18 days?

GIBBS: Yes.

TAPPER: Good luck.

The skepticism was understandable, but by the time the dust had cleared, Team Obama’s ambitions paid off. In the 2010 lame-duck session – the last lame-duck session in which one party controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress – Democrats repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ratified the New START treaty, passed the Zadroga 9/11 health bill, reached an agreement with Republicans on some expiring tax breaks, and confirmed more than a few judicial nominees. (In that same lame-duck session, Dems very nearly approved the Dream Act, too, but they couldn’t quite overcome a Republican filibuster.)

It was such an extraordinarily productive session for Democrats that one angry House Republican pushed legislation, called the “End the Lame Duck Act,” to prevent future Congresses from even having post-election legislative sessions.

Eight years later, it’s Republicans who, at least for now, control the White House, Senate, and House. But to the consternation of some on the right, this year’s lame-duck session is shaping up to be rather underwhelming.

It’d be an overstatement to say this year’s session has been completely meaningless. Congress approved a Farm Bill, for example, and a measure related to sexual-harassment on Capitol Hill. The Senate appears likely to approve the First Step criminal justice reform bill today, and there’s a chance it’ll clear the House in time, too.

With a little luck, the GOP might even avoid a government shutdown.

But as Republicans prepare to give up control over the levers of federal power, not only is the GOP setting its sights low, quite a few soon-to-depart House Republicans aren’t even showing up for work anymore, making it that much more difficult to approve important bills.

In fairness, the session isn’t over yet, and there’s still some time for the GOP majority to advance its priorities. It’s been slow of late, but as deadlines near, we may yet see a burst of legislative activity.

As things stand, however, this won’t be a lame-duck session Republicans will be bragging about.