Lame duck could cripple the economy

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If you thought the election year rancor and political mudslinging was over, think again. Late last month, Congress slipped out of DC without passing a budget, guaranteeing the House and Senate will be back in session after Nov. 2.

The problem is, despite the election results, newly elected House and Senate members won’t be seated until January. However, legislators turned out of office by the voters Nov. 2 remain in power until then. They are free to raise taxes and vote for unpopular programs such as cap-and-trade and card check – and they have nothing to lose. If a defeated senator or member of Congress wants to take a parting shot, the lame- duck session provides a perfect opportunity.

In fact, the lame-duck session could cripple our economy for years to come.

First, our federal budget deficit has escalated dramatically in the last two years. In 2006, borrowing to balance the federal budget surpassed $8 trillion, but in the last two years, it has swelled to $13.7 trillion. It is on its way to $19.6 trillion by 2015 if President Obama and the current Congress continue spending.

David M. Walker, who headed the Government Accountability Office under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, says that by 2040 our entire federal budget will go to paying just the interest on what we owe.

Second, union leaders are pressing Congress to pass card check. It would replace the secret ballot elections in union organizing campaigns with a system where organizers can pass out cards and watch while workers vote yes or no. Even former Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern, D-S.D., who had a perfect record of supporting unions, says, “We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election.”

Third, there is the infamous cap-and-trade legislation to control greenhouse gases, another trillion-dollar program that has failed in Europe. There are better and less costly ways to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, yet many on Capitol Hill seem intent on imposing this crippling regulatory system, which effectively gives government the power to control every aspect of production.

Fourth, there is the issue of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. The president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are looking for the right combination to sock it to big businesses and investors while throwing a tax relief bone to small business. They are apparently reticent of the fact that small businesses are suppliers to large businesses and will struggle if their customers are weakened.

Finally, there is the federal estate tax, which the president and Congress have conveniently chosen to ignore. Ten years ago, former U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, led a successful effort to phase out the federal inheritance tax, more commonly referred to as the death tax. The catch is that, unless the president and Congress act on Jan. 1, it resumes at its full rate – roughly half the person’s estate.

Congress and President Obama could do wonders for our economy and restore our confidence during the lame-duck session if they reduce the federal budget without crippling our nation’s defense, tell the unions to take a hike on card check, drop cap-and-trade, restore the Bush tax cuts and end the death tax.

Unfortunately, what should happen in the lame-duck session probably won’t. That will mean another next round of mudslinging, which will further cripple our economy. That’s not good for families, jobs or our nation’s competitiveness.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 7,100 members representing 650,000 employees. For more about AWB, visit