Congress Delays ‘Lame-Duck’ Session Until December
With the presidential election still up for grabs, White House and congressional leaders on Nov. 13 agreed to delay work on pending legislation until after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Washington Post reports. White House Budget Director Jacob "Jack" Lew said, "Obviously, we thought the best way to proceed was to get down to work this week and get it done before Thanksgiving. But there's a lot going on and a lot of (election) distractions and we understand that." White House officials signed off on an interim resolution yesterday that will keep government agencies running through Dec. 5. The Senate and President Clinton are expected to sign that resolution. Among the measures Congress still must consider is the $240 billion tax bill that includes $27 billion in Medicare givebacks to HMOs, hospitals and other care providers (Pianin, Washington Post, 11/14). So far, the Clinton "administration's chief focus is on protecting" a $355 billion appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, the Wall Street Journal reports. The appropriations measure includes "record" funding for medical research programs. Should the tax bill "collaps[e]," Republicans might "demand the spending be pared back, especially if Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) prevails in the Florida recount." The Journal reports that negotiations might be difficult when Congress resumes after Thanksgiving, considering "the lost time and the bitterness of the presidential fight" (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 11/14). As Congress recesses, the Congressional Budget Office is "considering revising its long term economic projections in a way that could substantially boost" the forecasts of a budget surplus and "ease the way for the spending and tax-cut proposals of the next president," the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, the surplus could be increased by $500 billion to $1 trillion over the next 10 years. The surplus now is projected to reach $4.6 trillion by 2010. The Post reports that the increase "would vastly simplify Bush's task of selling a proposed $1.3 trillion tax cut or [Vice President Al] Gore's arguments for major spending initiatives and more targeted tax cuts" (Washington Post, 11/14). Handling a Slim Republican Majority Regardless of any additional surplus money to argue over, with a slim "margin of control" in the incoming Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) "is coming under pressure from both parties to abandon confrontational tactics that contributed to the chamber's paralyzing partisanship over the past few years," the Washington Post reports. "Republican control" of the Senate "is assured," even if Maria Cantwell (D) defeats Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wa.) in the still- undecided Washington state Senate race. If Cantwell wins, the Senate will be split 50-50, but if Bush wins the presidency, Richard Cheney as vice president "would break the tie to keep the GOP in control of the Senate." On the other hand, if Gore prevails, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) "would have to relinquish his Senate seat, and his successor would be chosen by the Republican governor of Connecticut," who would most likely appoint a Republican. With such possibilities still up in the air, some GOP members are calling on Lott to compromise. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), "who intends to pursue the reform agenda from his presidential campaign," said that GOP leaders "must schedule action on major issues, some of which they tried to thwart this year," including patients' rights and a Medicare prescription drug benefit. McCain said, "The entire leadership has to change the way it does business," which would include allowing Democrats more committee seats and votes on their amendments. However, other conservatives are "urging" Lott to "impose more discipline among Republicans to keep dissenters from breaking ranks on important issues." Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) said, "The leader has to exercise discipline ... insist on (party) unity on high-priority items" (Dewar, Washington Post, 11/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.