Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Lame duck Congress, go home

By Ryan Alexander, Special to CNN
November 9, 2012 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ryan Alexander: The lame duck Congress should depart town quietly
  • Alexander: Current members must leave real work to the newly elected Congress
  • She says the current fiscal cliff is quite dangerous and needs to be resolved
  • Alexander: We have to wait for policymakers to enact meaningful changes in 2013

Editor's note: Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

(CNN) -- The lame duck Congress should depart town quietly and leave the governing to President Obama and the newly elected Congress in January.

Tuesday's election results did nothing to change two critical issues. First, the soon-to-be-outgoing 112th Congress has been among the least productive in history. Second, Washington must address the so-called fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and hefty automatic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

This lame-duck Congress should behave responsibly, play to its strength and once again kick the can down the road. It should try to avoid economic calamity that might result from total inaction, but the heavy lifting must be left to the newly elected 113th Congress. Very little good comes out of post-election lame duck sessions; rather, there are a lot of opportunities for legislative mischief.

Ryan Alexander
Ryan Alexander

The current fiscal cliff is quite dangerous. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts -- those that benefit the well-off and less-well-off -- expire when the ball drops in Times Square. A whole passel of small-bore tax breaks for everything from rum tax rebates for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to NASCAR track expensing -- the so-called extenders package -- awaits extension. At the same time, a "patch" to prevent millions from facing the alternative minimum tax and a routinely extended increase in the Medicare doctor payments will expire. Additionally, there will probably be a need for more disaster relief funding as well as federal flood insurance program borrowing to approve.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



On January 2, the across-the-board cuts of sequestration kick in, lopping off more than $100 billion in fiscal year 2013 spending in defense and non-defense budgets. After that, the debt ceiling looms.

To get everything done, more will have to happen in the last two months of 2012 than was substantively done in the entire 112th Congress to date. And that is precisely why the current members of Congress shouldn't even try.

Unpopular Congress faces painful job
Pawlenty: Fiscal cliff can be solved

Many in the House and Senate will not be coming back in the 113th Congress. Eighty-six lawmakers are retiring, lost or ran for a different office. They should not be the ones setting policy for future years.

For this reason, Congress and the president need to step back and identify the minimum amount of small changes that will enable the nation to retreat from the fiscal cliff and give new policymakers breathing room to enact meaningful changes in 2013.

The minimum action would be not simply turning off sequestration but delivering a down payment in one- to two-year savings that delays the onset of cuts rather than some pie in the sky 10-year number that will never happen.

The president and Congress should wrestle over taxes, with short-term extensions that set the stage for comprehensive tax reform in the 113th Congress. To that end, alternative minimum tax should be "patched," but with budget offsets. Finally, if FEMA or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs extra resources to conduct disaster relief and recovery, that should be considered.

What the lame duck Congress should absolutely not be doing is enacting legislation that inhibits future spending and tax reform.

This is not the time for a new legislative agenda and parochial projects and programs like a new trillion-dollar farm bill (extend expiring provisions with offsets and repeal permanent agriculture law dating from the 1940s and '50s instead).

Lawmakers' shopping lists go on and on, with wasteful changes to water project financing scheduled for a hearing in November and a massive tariff relief package with 2,000 earmarks for parochial interests championed by the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees, and other lawmaker priorities circulating as possible business to address in the lame duck.

We don't know what will be stuffed in the last legislative trains leaving the Capitol Hill station. Policymakers had their legislative chances in the past 22 months. Now we need a legislative freeze for the next two months to concentrate on getting the fiscal cliff resolved.

Let's give the next Congress a chance to make real progress.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan Alexander.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT