Congress convenes on Monday, November 15 for its lame-duck session. Some of the Democrats that will sit in the majority are not going to be coming back to Congress in January. Some of the Republicans, now in the minority, are licking their chops because they will occupy the majority in a few short weeks. There is work that must be done by this lame duck Congress, but how much work will they do, really? Will the Democrats hold their majority power knowing it is really gone? Will Republicans, buoyed and buttressed by the likes of Sarah Palin and those who abuse tea in the name of their party, crow and basking their early month victory? Will the White House dig in or get downright penitent? Right now, following politics is better than watching a soap opera or a train wreck.
Except for the fact that these politics affect all of us and all of our lives. One of the items on the agenda are the Bush tax cuts, which must be repealed. I am not sure why President Obama is even considering compromise on this matter. Deficit hawks ought to join the President in eliminating tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy so that our tax coffers can be enhanced. Republicans want to keep the Bush tax cuts, though, because despite all their populism they are tools of the wealthy. With newfound Republican power, buttressed by lots of new infusions of money, the wealthy are likely to prevail.
While the ducks are out, perhaps President Obama will take a hard look at those who surround him. His trip to Asia flopped because he was poorly staffed. China picked at him and criticized Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke's plan to put money into the economy, even as it manipulates its own currency. While the damage may not be as bad as reported, President Obama returned to the United States with the perception that he lost one, which is not a good thing. Indeed, he returns with the notion that he got whipped at home and is now whipped abroad. Who is staffing our president and looking ahead? Could this have been prevented? Will his new vulnerability be used against him when the ducks come out?
The ducks, emboldened by Republican gains, are going to try Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) for ethics violations. The jury will be made up of eight members of Congress, four from each party. Allegations against Congressman Rangel have been simmering for months, and there has been a long walk toward these hearings. Will the new majority judge Congressman Rangel more harshly than before? What does this mean for the Congressional Black Caucus? The dynamics of the lame duck Congress put lots of things up for grabs. Congressman Rangel may well be part of the collateral damage of this seismic shift in Congress.
There are issues that the lame duck Congress must address. Monies for Haiti must be released. Tax issues must be resolved, and the Bush tax cuts must be rebuffed. While the appetite for spending has been quelled by Republican victories, the real deal is that job creation remains an important issue. There are some issues that won't be addressed, and there is some wrangling that is inevitable. The next week or so of lame duck sessions will send a signal for the way Congress will act for the next two years.
It is my hope that Democrats find themselves. All this flailing and uncertainty are interesting and wasteful drama when Democrats are in the majority, but wasteful posturing when Democrats are in the minority. If Democrats try to imitate Republicans instead of sticking to their principles, they will be even further marginalized than they were in the 2010 election. If, on the other hand, Dems get their act together and resist the Republican blast from the past, their need to "take our country back" (from whom, one might ask), political tension may have a positive conclusion.
The ducks are out, and the next few weeks will be nothing more than challenging. Those of us who are simply observers need to be clear that we can make a difference. We can nudge our legislators to do the right thing, especially around the Bush tax cuts. The ducks don't have to be lame unless they choose ineffectiveness. We can keep them honest.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.