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Lame Duck Congress has important jobs to finish

As far as numbers go, the work of “lame duck” Congresses is phenomenal. The Congress of 2007-08 managed to pass 165 of its 460 laws in those few weeks. Similarly, the Congress of 2019-20 passed 111 of its 344 laws after the elections.

The numbers may indicate that some of the easy bills–like those renaming U.S. Post Offices–are saved for last. But this year there’s real pressure to take up major bills passed by the House and not the Senate. When this session expires, all bills die and must start the process over.

The Senate has been tackling its backlog. Workers on freight trains will now receive a 24% pay increase by 2024, have more schedule flexibility, and get one paid personal leave day each year. Workers didn’t get the eight sick leave days annually that two unions insisted on, but at least senators are on record as voting for or against them.

The Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate, 61-36, and the House, 258-169. The bill prohibits discrimination based on “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” in just about everything–employment, housing, education, etc. It allows transgender individuals to use restrooms and dressing rooms that fit their gender identity.

And funding for the Defense Department will certainly pass.

But time is running out. The session is scheduled to end Thursday, Dec. 22–yet the current term isn’t officially over until Jan. 2. And there are some major bills we desperately need passed.

My main concern is the voting rights bill, H.R./S.R 1. It’s passed the House, but Senate leaders haven’t found the 60 votes necessary under filibuster rules to bring the bill up for discussion.

A major part of the bill guarantees rights that Idahoans already have: early voting, vote-by-mail, same-day registration, and independent redistricting commissions.

Can you imagine Idaho Senators voting against rights so important to Idaho citizens?

If given the chance, they will vote no, because the Republican Party no longer supports such laws.

Last year Idaho’s centrist legislators–Republican and Democrat– managed to defeat at least seven bills aimed at curtailing these rights. The 2022 election results, however, indicate that centrists won’t be a majority this year.

Without action on the Federal level, Idahoans are apt to lose both same-day registration and vote-by-mail rights this year. Getting a Constitutional amendment to change our independent redistricting commission will take longer, but Republicans have time–the next commission will be appointed in 2030.

There are other measures in the bill which Idaho congressmen may use to justify their opposition. The bill requires a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and establishes conflict of interest rules for Federal officials. It also changes reporting procedures for donations. (Right now the 2022 contributions to nation-wide PACS don’t have to be reported until after the first of the year, months after voters needed the information.) The law would also provide funding in certain Federal races.

It would only take 50 votes to change the filibuster rule. It doesn’t currently apply to judicial appointments or some budget bills. Michael Moore has suggested that it should not apply to bills that have passed the House. A compromise might allow the House or Senate leaders to designate six bills it didn’t apply to.

There are other bills worth passing these final weeks: e.g., a cap on insulin prices; a route to citizenship for “Dreamers,” those immigrants who came as children; and extension of the Child Tax and Earned Income Tax credits.

Prospects don’t look good, but it may be years until we have another chance.

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