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

(Reuters) - Congress is scheduled to hold a special work period following the November 2 elections called a “lame-duck session.”

President Barack Obama waves as he receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In U.S. politics, a lame-duck period is when Congress works with many lawmakers who have just been voted out of office and before a new session convenes with newly elected members.

It is a time to try to complete action on long-stalled bills, but can also see 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.


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 how long the session is.


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 of those cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or families making 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 will likely 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.


The Senate might take up a bill passed by the House of Representatives to impose new U.S. duties on imports from countries with fundamentally undervalued currencies. The legislation is mainly aimed at China. The Obama administration has delayed a related decision on labeling China as a currency manipulator in the hope of making progress on that issue at the Group of 20 leading nations summit in Seoul November 11-12, shortly before Congress returns.

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

But if it does come to a vote, it appears likely the Senate will approve the House bill.


A study is due in December on possibly eliminating the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexual soldiers to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual preference private. 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.


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.


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.


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.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will push to provide a one-time payment of $250 for recipients of the U.S. Social Security retirement program and for U.S. military veterans.

The White House backs the effort and urges lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to show some rare bipartisanship and give seniors and vets a hand.

The government recently announced that Social Security benefits will not automatically increase next year for 58 million Americans because of the low U.S. inflation rate.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; editing by Jim Marshall