Now that election day has come and gone, and because there will be some drastic changes in the makeup of the congress, we're in a sort of limbo – the lame duck congress. Despite the fact that many of these politicians won't be returning, there are still a ton of things that really need to get done before the year is out. When they reconvene on November 15th they'll have a full slate of issues that need to be covered and addressed, otherwise, they'll be dealing with an angry public because many of the issues directly affect the bottom lines of taxpayers. From CNN:
Congress will return to Capitol Hill on Nov. 15 for a lame-duck session marked by a long roster of unfinished business.
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And most of the agenda has a direct bearing on Americans' wallets.
But just how much lawmakers will accomplish in the few weeks before the Christmas recess is anyone's guess. It's possible, political analysts say, that finalizing some key legislative items will be left to the next Congress convening in January.
Issues That Need To Be Addressed By Congress Before Year's End
The slate of issues that need to be addressed is pretty lengthy. Some of the most important ones include:
- Bush Tax Cuts: The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 will be expiring at the end of the year, and if nothing is done everyone who pays taxes will be having a larger chunk taken out of their paycheck come January 1st. President Obama has signaled that he may be more open to extending the tax cuts after the Democrats lost the house in the election, but it is still unclear as to if all the tax cuts will be extended or if the tax cuts will only be extended for those making less than $250,000. Several plans are floating around right now, so hopefully something will be done. I'm hoping for an extension of the tax cuts for everyone given the economy (and spending cuts please!). Check out what will happen if the tax cuts aren't extended. (UPDATE: President Obama has indicated as of last night that he's open to passing a temporary extension of tax cuts for everyone, even high income taxpayers, because of the political realities he's facing after the election. Look for something to get done soon.)
- Estate Tax: Congress didn't act on the estate tax last year, and because of it there was no estate tax this year. Congress still hasn't acted on the estate tax for 2011, and they're still having some disagreements about how far reaching it should be . From CNN: “If lawmakers don't get their act together, come Jan. 1, no more than $1 million of a person's estate would be exempt from the estate tax. That's well below the $3.5 million exemption in place last year. And the top estate tax rate would increase to 55%, up from 45% in 2009.“
- AMT Patch: If Congress doesn't act on the AMT patch, around 27 million people will be hit with the Alternative Minimum Tax when they file their 2010 returns in the first few months of next year, according to Tax Policy Center estimates.
- Unemployment Benefits Extension: The program that allows jobless workers to file for up to 99 weeks of benefits will be be expiring on November 30th. Unless something is done around 2 million jobless workers will lose their federal unemployment benefits in December according to estimates from the National Employment Law Project. This one is up for quite a bit of debate, however with the two sides of the isle being pretty split as to whether the unemployment benefits give good stimulus and aid to the economy or not.
- Medicare Doc Fix Extension: The Medicare reimbursement rate for physicians will be cut by 21% and by 1% to 6% in future years if Congress doesn't implement a so-called “doc fix” to stave off the rate cut. If something isn't done there is a legitimate concern that doctors will stop treating Medicare patients if their fees are cut so drastically.
- 2011 Budget: If the congress doesn't pass temporary measures or pass the entire 2011 budget, the lights will go out on December 3rd and we'll have a government shutdown (could that be a good thing?). In the end something will most likely be done – and some sort of temporary measure or the full budget will be passed. A shutdown doesn't seem likely.
So those are a few of the more pressing items facing our congress when they reconvene here on the 15th. Whether they can actually come together and find common sense solutions for some of these problems remains to be seen.
What do you think? Would you like to see something done on all or some of these things? Do you think it would be better if some of these things just don't happen? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!