Lame duck session poses threat to Democrats in November

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Democrats in Congress are clearly considering convening a lame duck session of congress after November’s elections to move much of their liberal agenda.  Last week Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to rule it out, and when Senator John Kerry was asked recently if cap-and-trade legislation was dead, he said it wasn’t because “we’re going to have a lame-duck session and we have weeks ahead of us.”

But voters are leery of the Democratic majority in congress reconvening after the election to pass a cap-and-trade bill, immigration reform, card check legislation or tax increases, according to a poll released today by Resurgent Republic, a conservative non-profit group (on whose board I serve) that tests public opinion on important policy questions.

In the new survey of voters in the dozen states listed as Senate toss-ups in the Cook Political Report, 69 percent of voters agreed that a lame duck session of Congress is a bad idea because “members of Congress should cast votes on important bills before facing the voters, not wait until after an election to cast those votes,” versus just 26 percent who agreed that a lame duck session is a good idea because “it allows Congress to address issues that it did not have time for before the election, and those issues can be addressed without the pressure of an impending election.”

By a margin of 63 to 32 percent, voters sided with the candidate who says “these are important issues that have long-lasting effects, and if they’re not voted on before the November elections we should wait until the newly elected Congress meets” over the candidate who says, “these are important issues that deserve to be voted on by Congress as soon as possible.  If Congress cannot get to them before the election, then they should be addressed in a lame duck session immediately after the election regardless of the election’s outcome.”

Voters feel strongly enough about the wrongness of moving controversial legislation after the elections that 63 percent  said they would be less likely to vote to re-elect a member of Congress who refused to rule out voting for tax increases, immigration reform, cap-and-trade legislation or a card check bill in a lame duck session of Congress.

Additionally, unless Congress acts before the end of this year Americans will face tax increases hitting everyone from married couples to parents to low income earners to investors to survivors of deceased parents.  Resurgent Republic’s survey showed that only a little over half of all voters (54 percent) are aware that the largest tax increase in American history is slated to take effect on January 1, 2011 if Congress does not act.

With opposition ranging between 61 percent to 87 percent, these voters reject “raising taxes on married couples,” “raising income taxes on all wage earners,” “reducing the tax credit for people with children,” and “raising the tax rate on income from dividends or interest.  Majorities of Republicans and Independents oppose all these tax hikes, while Democrats split (40 to 40 percent) on “increasing the number of families paying the alternative minimum tax,” and support (50 percent) “raising the estate tax rate” and (56 percent) “raising the tax rate on capital gains.”

If the Democrat majority in Congress does not act to stop the looming tax increases, Independents are less likely to support Democrat candidates for House and Senate this November by a 57 to 18 percent margin.  Democrats are split with 36 percent more likely to support their own candidate and 31 percent less likely.

Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Geithner rejected extending all of the tax relief measures saying, “I don’t believe it should and I don’t believe it will.” If Democrats  enact only targeted tax relief (i.e., marriage penalty, child tax credit, 10% bracket only) they will be opposed by the vast majority of Republicans and Independents on the tax cuts they do not extend, while making clear not only whose taxes will remain at current levels but also whose will be going up.  Yet, failing to enact any tax relief before adjourning for the November elections will also make voters less likely to vote for Democrats.

All incumbents in both parties seeking re-election should be asked if they will pledge not to vote for controversial bills like tax increases, cap-and-trade legislation, card check or immigration reform in a lame duck session of Congress after the elections.  Democrats who do so will make it harder for the current majority to pass these unpopular policies (and will make clear to liberal voters that any secret plan to do so is not viable).  If they do not make that pledge, their voters will be able to cast an informed vote on their incumbent representative or senator in November.

The Democratic majorities in Congress are in the unenviable position of being damned if they do, damned if they don’t.  The key is for Republicans to smoke them out, not allowing them to hide their intentions from the voters in November.

Ed Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and Counselor to President Bush.

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