The end of the lame duck is in sight.
The House late last night passed the tax bill after progressives gave up their demands to strengthen the estate tax provision — demands that nearly brought down the bill. Members are sticking around Washington now, waiting until how the government is funded the next few months is resolved by the Senate.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, last night ditched plans to pass an omnibus — a giant spending bill that rolls together the fiscal 2011 appropriations bills — in favor of a simple resolution that will continue funding the government at current levels through early next year (once the Senate passes this, the House follows suit and then goes home — likely late Friday or early Saturday). Reid abandoned plans for the omnibus after Republican support began to waiver in the face of Tea Party outrage: Jim DeMint swore he would do everything in his power to block the pork-laden legislation including forcing the clerk to spend two days reading the 2,000-page measure and invoking rules challenges.
Democrats’ capitulation on the estate tax and the omnibus have helped smooth the way for both chambers of Congress to adjourn by early next week at the latest — appeasing all those angry congressional spouses unwilling to spend the Holidays alone again. The Senate still has to pass the New START treaty and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. They will also try to pass the DREAM Act and a bill helping 911 first responders, though it’s unclear if they have the votes for those bills.
Even if the Dems get just Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and New START, the lame duck will have been much more productive than most people, myself included, anticipated. Adding to the stimulus, health care reform and financial reregulation, the work finished in the lame duck could make the 111th Congress the most productive session since Lyndon Johnson’s Great society.