Factbox: Congress in "lame-duck" session after election

Wed Nov 3, 2010 7:56am EDT

A U.S. Flag is displayed in front of the Capitol during a Flag Ceremony hosted by the Tea Party Patriots in Washington, November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Molly Riley

A U.S. Flag is displayed in front of the Capitol during a Flag Ceremony hosted by the Tea Party Patriots in Washington, November 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley

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(Reuters) - Now that the midterm elections are over, Congress is scheduled to hold a special work period called a "lame-duck session."

In U.S. politics, a lame-duck period is the time between a congressional election in November and the start of the new Congress in January. Congress works but it includes many lawmakers who have just been voted out of office and none of the newly elected members except incumbents.

It is a time to try to complete action on long-stalled bills, but can also be marked by inaction as departing legislators lose interest.

Still, a lame-duck session can be productive as the election-year jockeying is out of the way and lawmakers are free to vote their conscience.

WHEN IS IT?

Congress meets after the election and before the new Congress is sworn in the following January, but the length of the lame-duck session is not fixed and depends largely on lawmakers' appetite for work. This year's session is set to begin on November 15 and last several weeks. The number of bills approved can often depend on the length of the session.

BUSH TAX CUTS

Tax cuts enacted when Republican George W. Bush was president expire at the end of 2010, and many lawmakers want to extend most if not all of them.

President Barack Obama wants to extend the tax cuts that expire on December 31, except for a portion for individuals earning more than $200,000 a year or families earning more than $250,000. Republicans want all tax cuts extended permanently. Both plans would add to already large U.S. budget deficits, although the Republican plan would cost the government more.

Given that the Republicans now have more momentum after the elections, their tax cut plans could gain favor in the lame-duck session. One idea gaining traction is to extend the cuts for everyone for a year.

If the parties cannot agree, the tax reductions will run out at the end of the year but a new, Republican-heavy Congress convening in January would likely reintroduce them immediately.

CHINA CURRENCY VOTE

The Senate might take up a bill passed by the House of Representatives to impose U.S. duties on imports from countries with fundamentally undervalued currencies. If it does come to a vote, it appears likely the Senate will approve the House bill.

The legislation is mainly aimed at China. The Obama administration has delayed a related decision on whether to label China a currency manipulator in the hope of making progress on that issue at the Group of 20 leading nations summit in Seoul on November 11-12, shortly before Congress returns.

A China vote might not happen if Democrats, who were repudiated at the polls, decide they do not have the political backing to take on a lot of issues in the post-election session.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

There could be moves in the Senate to pass legislation imposing stricter controls on offshore oil drilling following April's rupture of a BP deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico. The House already has passed a bill. Such legislation could be coupled with new steps to encourage cleaner alternative fuels now that comprehensive climate control legislation has been blocked in the Senate.

SPENDING

Some of the most immediate issues concern spending bills to keep government programs running, ranging from education and outer space exploration to health, agriculture and foreign policy activities. If the outgoing Congress can't agree on funding levels running through September 30, 2011 -- the end of the current fiscal year -- it likely will provide enough money to keep things running at least until January.

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

A study is due in December on possibly eliminating the Pentagon's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans openly gay people from serving in the military. Once that report is issued, Democrats are likely to push legislation ending the nearly 20-year-old policy. They'll have to pick up the support of at least a few Republicans.

NEW START TREATY

The Senate could vote on whether to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia that would result in a modest cut in both countries' nuclear arsenals. Conservative Republicans have been opposing the treaty.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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