Crunch time for Congress
Nebraskans should know that there's plenty to be done when Congress returns after this week's election. Although the period between the election and the start of the next Congress is called a "lame duck session," the 112th Congress has left so much undone that there is a serious 'to-do' list waiting in Washington. There are numerous financial, national security, budgetary, and taxation issues that need to be attended to before the 113th Congress convenes in 2013. Here are some of them:
The Defense Authorization bill sets the policy of the Department of Defense, and authorizes funding levels for defense programs. While this bill has passed Congress during each of the last 50 years, the 112th Congress has not accomplished this as of yet for 2012.
This fall, a number of major US banks were hit with the biggest cyberattacks in our nation's history. Yet, comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, the first line of defense against hackers and a 'must-have' in the modern world, remains undone. While the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 stalled in the Senate this past August, this critical piece of legislation should be reconsidered in the lame duck session.
The 2001, 2003, and 2009 tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year and absent any congressional action will expire. Additionally, a tax extenders package that provides tax breaks to individuals, businesses, and energy-related interests also faces the same year-end timeframe. Discussions on extending these tax cuts and provisions, while taking on our nation's debt and deficit will play a central role in the lame duck session.
The Fiscal Cliff
Congress's inability to agree on a plan to reduce our nation's debt and deficit (following the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011) has led us to the sequestration trigger of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, scheduled to be pulled on January 2, 2013. These largely across-the-board spending cuts will take effect if Congress can't agree on a plan to avert them.
The Farm Bill expired earlier this year, and although we in the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year Farm Bill that made needed reforms to farm programs, while accomplishing $23 billion in deficit reduction back in June, the House still hasn't pulled its weight. It is my hope that our colleagues in the House will follow the Senate's lead with a bipartisan approach to this sorely-needed legislation, and finally vote on a Farm Bill.
If the 112th Congress breaks with the 'party first, country second' motto that it has largely followed over the past two years, and makes the necessary effort to compromise on key issues during the lame duck session, it will allow for the necessary work to be done on these many critical issues facing our country.