The old house on our property back in rural Ohio wasn’t good for much. No running water. No electrical connection any longer. The back portion of the house collapsed some years ago. We stored hay for cows in the remaining dilapidated structure for a while. There were also some couches. An old Magnavox TV. A Big Wheel, circa 1976, was parked under a mildewed, gray carpet.
Enormous cobwebs, worthy of a Marvel movie, spanned across a doorjamb leading from the living room to the kitchen.
We finally cleaned the place out. Then the county came to tear down the rest of the place for us.
Most people dread cleaning out cluttered basements, attics or old houses. It’s arduous, procrastination-worthy work.
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But it’s part of cycles.
Capitol Hill is approaching its own “clean out” stage.
The 118th Congress comes to a close in early January. And much like cleaning out a basement or a barn worthy of a disaster declaration, Congress faces an intimidating amount of work over the next five weeks. There’s a lot of “clutter” which lawmakers need to clean up.
It’s as daunting a task as you’ll ever find on Capitol Hill.
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There’s a Senate bill to codify same-sex marriage. Then there’s the annual defense policy bill. Lawmakers want to approve an update to the Electoral Count Act, a measure to make the certification of the Electoral College tamper-proof. There are provisions on Medicare to handle. Retrench some tax policies. Congress must fund the government. There’s a possible increase or suspension of the debt ceiling. Maybe even a measure to fund Ukraine.
President Biden is chattering about reviving a long-expired, federal assault weapons ban after it expired nearly two decades ago. The president is pushing the assault weapons ban after a trifecta of recent mass shootings just before Thanksgiving.
Don’t forget that the House’s committee investigating last year’s riot will hand in its final report soon. That’s a massive story by itself.
We haven’t even covered formal leadership elections this week for House and Senate Democrats. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is still trying to secure enough votes to become speaker in January. Both sides must decide who will chair various committees and serve as ranking minority members. And new members just elected again parachuted into Washington for a second week of freshmen orientation sessions.
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It’s often like this in November, December and even the first few days of January when an old Congress is trying to wrap up things and begin anew. It’s especially pressing when there’s a transfer of power involving one chamber of Congress or another. Legislation that one body or the other adopted during the current Congress will expire if not taken up by the other chamber before this Congress ends. So, the crush is on.
And, like rifling through boxes in a dingy, old basement, no one on Capitol Hill enjoys this period either. But it’s something that must be done.
Congress typically focuses most of its attention on one or two major bills at this time of the year. While several of the pieces of legislation we mentioned earlier are major, two bills are a little more major than the rest: the bill to avert a government shutdown in mid-December and the defense policy bill.
It’s possible that the government funding piece of legislation could balloon to absurd size – especially if it’s loaded up with aid for Ukraine and addresses the debt ceiling. Don’t forget that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, still hasn’t made good on a promise he made with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in order to secure his support for the Inflation Reduction Act over the summer. Schumer was supposed to latch a provision to approve a pipeline important to Manchin to a spending bill in late September. But Schumer reneged – with Manchin’s blessing for now – after lawmakers from both sides balked. It’s unclear if Schumer and Manchin could try again on the bill to avoid a shutdown or the defense bill.
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That’s a lot of attic to clean out. And the legislative machinations are unpleasant.
Items that were once thought to be so precious suddenly find their way to the city dump. And other bills and measures that were beyond salvageable suddenly emerge as important keepsakes.
It’s customary to see articles written around this time of year comparing Congress to slacker college students who delay studying or writing a big paper until the night before it’s due. The analogy is appropriate. But it’s not that lawmakers are just as sophomoric as college students. This is just human nature. And so it’s natural that Congress may put off such major assignments until after the election but just before the absolute, final moment.
Just a couple of years ago, Congress crept up against the very final moments of the Congress as the House and Senate scrambled to override the veto of former President Trump of the defense bill. The Senate met on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. While lawmakers would like to conclude all business by Christmas, it’s not unheard of for the House and Senate to meet the week between Christmas and New Year’s and right up until noon ET on Jan. 3, the constitutionally mandated start of the next Congress.
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Congress met through New Year’s in 2012 and into 2013, trying to address a host of financial issues, billed as the “fiscal cliff,” that were about to come due.
The House and Senate convened for a week right after the election before abandoning Washington again for Thanksgiving. Lawmakers addressed none of the big legislative issues during that brief stint on Capitol Hill.
The Senate cleared a procedural hurdle on the same-sex marriage bill. There were marginal talks about funding the government. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared that Congress didn’t need to wrestle with the debt ceiling until next year. Everyone was still focused on the GOP leadership elections in both the House and Senate, the size of the Republican majority, Democrats finally clinching control of the Senate again, the departure from leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and whether McCarthy could muster the votes to become speaker.
That constituted a lot of basement cleaning. But Congress has only begun. The heaviest lifting begins this week.
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So grab your carpenter’s stabilizing belt. A good pair of work gloves. Put some classic rock songs on the radio to make the time pass more quickly.
Compared to what Congress has to do over the next few weeks, you may have more fun cleaning out a condemned, rickety old house.