WASHINGTON (CN) – When Congress convenes today for a lame-duck session, the biggest items on the agenda will likely be extending the Bush-era tax cuts and approving a government budget to fund federal agencies.
Both Republicans and Democrats support extending the Bush-era tax cuts in light of the struggling economy, but Democrats want to limit the extension to families who make $250,000 or less and Republicans want to extend tax cuts for both the middle-class and those who make $250,000 a year or more. The cuts are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31.
Congress will also grapple with federal agency budgets, which are currently operating off a continuing resolution that expires Dec 3.
Congress will also likely vote on renewing unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of November.
President Obama has said he wants to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” recruiting policy during the lame-duck session, which will be harder to repeal with a Republican House majority next year, but with such a compressed schedule, Congress may not have time to address the measure.
It is also unclear whether the Senate will ratify the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty, which calls for a drawdown of nuclear weapons stores in the United States and Russia.
In January, Congress will kick off its 112th session. Republicans, who gained 60 seats in the House in midterm elections, will control the House, ending a four-year Democratic majority. Democrats will still hold a majority in the Senate.
In the incoming freshman class of Congress, 35 members have never held office before.
House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the likely next speaker of the House, spoke Wednesday about his upcoming legislative priorities in Congress.
“Extending all of the current tax rates and making them permanent will reduce the uncertainty in America and help small businesses begin to create jobs again,” Boehner said. “Making these permanent will be the most important thing we can do to help create jobs in the country.”
Boehner said he also supports freezing the hiring and pay of federal employees, reducing government spending and repealing the health care reform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward.”
Last week, Pelosi announced her intention to run for minority leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the primary legislative goals for Republicans are to repeal the health care bill, end bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size of government. He called for Republican lawmakers to “stop the big-government freight train” and promised that Senate Republicans would “propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly” on the health care reform bill.
He also announced his support for extending both sets of Bush-era tax cuts.
“We will work hard to ensure Democrats don’t raise taxes on anybody,” he said, “especially in the middle of a recession.”
But he acknowledged that Republican gains in Congress did not mean a Republican majority.
“Democrats not only have the White House,” McConnell said at the Heritage Foundation. “They have the Senate, too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”