Congress & Christmas 

Posted: 9:40 am Sunday, December 19th, 2010

By Jamie Dupree

Earlier this month, some of my more junior colleagues in the Press Gallery ridiculed me when I predicted that Congress would be in session until almost Christmas.  What a bunch of rookies.

Well, the calendar today reads December 20.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the House and Senate still have major legislative business to conclude.

At this point, the only “must-pass” items are down to the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia that the Senate will vote on and a stop-gap budget that would keep the government running into the New Year.

Don’t get me wrong – there are a LOT of other items that both parties are hoping to get action on in terms of legislation.  But those are the two that need action before lawmakers can get out of town.

The START treaty consumed a good deal of the weekend for the Senate, which also cleared the decks of two other measures, the immigration DREAM Act and a bill that repeals the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on gays in the military.

As expected, the DREAM Act failed to gain 60 votes to break a GOP-led filibuster, while there was a historic vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as backers broke a filibuster Saturday morning on a 63-33 vote and then voted 65-31 to approve the plan.

It will be signed into law in coming days by President Obama.

While Mr. Obama will be able to declare victory on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the START treaty is in partisan limbo, as on Sunday, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition during an interview on CNN.

“I’ve decided I can not support the START Treaty,” McConnell told CNN’s Candy Crowley.

The treaty needs not just 60 votes to break a filibuster – but 67 votes to be approved.

Until McConnell announced his opposition, conventional wisdom was that the treaty would be approved with some strong Republican criticism, but we’ll see if that has changed.

As for the budget, the latest temporary budget plan runs out Tuesday night at midnight, as Democrats try to forge a budget plan to keep the government funded through early next year.

The plan was rolled out Sunday night, and would fund the government through March 4 of next year.  We were only given the summary, so I haven’t been able to see the text of the bill to check if anything “extra” was added in or not.

One item that Democrats had hoped to stuff in that bill was moved on its own Sunday night, as a sweeping food safety bill was adopted in the Senate, and sent back to the House for final action, as Republicans dropped their objections.

Looking back at recent year-end adjournments in Congress, the last time lawmakers beat it out of town early was in 2006, when the session wrapped up on December 8, which was also the magic day in 2004.  In 2008, Congress was done with work by December 11.

Last year, I spent the morning of Christmas Eve at the Capitol with Senators.  Let’s hope that isn’t repeated this week.

Maybe by Wednesday of this week?

We’ll see.

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