Andrew Taylor, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Now that the elections are over, a lame-duck Congress comes back to work this month to deal with a pile of unfinished business: whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts due to expire, give seniors a $250 Social Security special payment and repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays serving openly.
It's an open question how much they'll get done.
The current Congress returns Nov. 15 for a post-election session dominated by tax and spending issues. Rarely has such a big pile of work faced lawmakers when the party in power has suffered so much at the ballot box.
Lame duck sessions tend to be notoriously unproductive, especially when there's a turnover in the majority party. The party losing power is in a sour mood and just wants to go home; the party entering power usually prefers to wait until reinforcements arrive in January and wants most business put off so they can put their own stamp on it.
While Republicans easily took over the House and picked up at least six seats in the Senate, the new GOP members won't arrive until January, with the exception of Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, R-Ill. That means Democrats will still command big majorities in the lame duck session.
Lawmakers in both parties, however, are keen to immediately address the looming expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on Dec. 31. Taxes on income, investments, and large estates are set to go up, while the $1,000 per-child tax credit would be cut in half and couples would lose relief from the so-called marriage penalty.
Obama said he would invite both Democratic and GOP leaders to the White House later this month to negotiate over taxes.
"My hope is, is that given we all have an interest in growing the economy and encouraging job growth, that we're not going to play brinksmanship but instead we're going to act responsibly," Obama said.
Extending tax cuts is a top political priority but the world won't end if they expire for a short while: more money will simply be withheld from workers' paychecks.
And, next spring's income tax returns are based on tax provisions in effect in 2010.
But there are other items that simply can't be put off until next year.