What to Expect in Lame-Duck Session of Congress

November 8, 2018

Congress returns next week for what is scheduled to be a four-week, lame-duck session. Lawmakers come back to an immigration stalemate with President Trump over the construction of a border wall that could result in a partial government shutdown in December, as well as a host of other issues before Republicans turn control of the House over to Democrats in January.

Lame duck congressional sessions have been known to be both unpredictable and expensive. For example, the Democrat-led House in 2010 passed an omnibus spending bill with over 6,000 earmarks, costing more than $8 billion. Congress passed the Superfund law in 1980 during a lame-duck session.

Congress has one key deadline of December 8 for funding parts of the government. House and Senate negotiators need to complete work on seven of 12 appropriation bills in order to avoid shutting down portions of the government. House Republicans likely will try to include their priorities in these remaining spending bills, while Senate Democrats are expected to withhold votes needed to break a 60-vote filibuster in order to push their spending priorities next year with the House Democrats.

Congress punted on the immigration issue until after the midterm elections, because Republican lawmakers wanted to postpone the debate over the president’s demand for funding for a wall along the Mexican border. Trump has called for shutting down the government if Congress does not give him more money for construction of the wall. The president also has called for tougher immigration laws as a caravan of some 4,000 migrants from Central America is heading for the U.S. border and thousands of troops have been deployed.

It is unlikely that lawmakers will make significant changes to last year’s tax reform law, although it is usual for Congress to renew expiring tax provisions in legislation known as “tax extenders.” This year’s tax extenders could include credits for energy-efficient homes and a private mortgage insurance deduction that both lapsed at the end of 2017. Lame-duck tax legislation also could address changes to the Internal Revenue Service’s structure and encouraging more companies to start employee retirement plans.

Pressure is building on Congress to pass a farm bill during the lame-duck session. The previous law expired at the end of September, and lawmakers have been debating whether to overhaul work requirements for food-stamp recipients.

It is expected that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will push for confirmation votes, particularly for controversial nominations, during the lame-duck session. Actions on these nominations would obviate the need for President Trump to re-nominate them in the next Congress.