A Look At What Lame-Duck Congress May Achieve

Los Angeles Times correspondent Janet Hook talks to host Andrea Seabrook about what the lame-duck Congress might accomplish in its remaining days in office.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, to those lame ducks in the 110th Congress. They'll have a session this week, and there actually are some real issues on the table. Among them the aching auto industry, which says it needs $25 billion in aid to stay afloat. But Senate Republicans are likely to block that. Democrats also would like to see some kind of stimulus measures for the economy.

Janet Hook covers the Capitol from the inside out for the Los Angeles Times. She says don't count on much movement on these issues.

Ms. JANET HOOK (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): They're important issues, but lame may be the word. You know, there are big issues that Congress probably will have a hard time addressing because there's a lot of incentive for the Democrats to put it off until next year, when they have more Democrats in Congress and President Obama rather than President Bush.

SEABROOK: Hmm. OK. So, is there anything in the economic stimulus that might actually pass through Congress this week?

Ms. HOOK: Actually, there is a possibility that they will get through an extension of unemployment benefits, a lot of people without jobs or running out of time to receive benefits. And that's pretty uncontroversial.

SEABROOK: Now, there is some politics going on, as there always is on Capitol Hill. Tell me about Ted Stevens. Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide whether the Alaska senator should be expelled from the caucus?

Ms. HOOK: That's right. He is one of the most senior members of the Senate, but he's been convicted of corruption charges. But his reelection is still pending. They are still doing the vote count in Alaska, and he hasn't given up. He's still coming back to Washington.

SEABROOK: And there are Republicans, I guess, who don't like the idea of a convicted senator sitting in their caucus.

Ms. HOOK: Correct.

SEABROOK: Now, to the House. There are some serious power plays going on between top-ranking Democrats over there. Tell me about this Henry Waxman-John Dingell fight.

Ms. HOOK: Right. Well, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is one of the most important committees in the House, especially for the issues that President-elect Obama wants to address - health, energy, the environment all go through this committee, and John Dingell has been chairman of it for many, many years.

Henry Waxman is much more liberal and more environmentally conscious than Dingell, and he has decided to challenge him for the chairmanship. So, it's going to be kind of ugly.

SEABROOK: Dingell or Waxman, who's your money on?

Ms. HOOK: I've got to say, I always bet on the incumbent. Seniority rules, and Dingell is a very powerful man. On the other hand, the power of the environmental issues gives Waxman a really good shot at unseating him. And Henry Waxman knows how to count votes, and he wouldn't be doing this if he didn't think he could win.

SEABROOK: One last question, Janet. There's sort of an air of insignificance around a lame-duck session. I mean, we were just talking about how very little policy's actually going to be done here, but lame-duck sessions are important to keep your eye on, are they not?

Ms. HOOK: Yeah, it's true. I mean, it's sort of a funny political environment. All kinds of wacky things can happen. And somebody was just telling me that Tip O'Neill had a lame-duck session in the '80s, and he swore he'd never do it again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: What happened? He didn't like it?

Ms. HOOK: Yeah, no. It's just party discipline kind of falls apart, and every man for himself.

SEABROOK: Right. Janet Hook reports on Congress for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks so much for coming in.

Ms. HOOK: Sure.

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