Get Ready To Watch This Lame-Duck Congress Sprint From a Hail Mary pass on the Keystone pipeline aimed at saving Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to attempts to block White House appointments and executive actions, the next month in Congress could be busy.
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Get Ready To Watch This Lame-Duck Congress Sprint

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Get Ready To Watch This Lame-Duck Congress Sprint

Get Ready To Watch This Lame-Duck Congress Sprint

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Congress was a pretty active lame-duck this week. The New York Times reported President Obama could take executive action on immigration as soon as next week. Congressional Republicans are already squawking and the Democratic-controlled Senate is trying to push things along before they lose their majority status. As they say, time will tell and the clock is ticking.

Here to talk about all of this in Congress and the White House is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIMON: What do we fairly know about what action the president might take on immigration?

ELVING: Scott, the outline that's been leaked, essentially, by the White House this week points to some major changes using the presidential enforcement power. Some shift of resources would boost enforcement along the southern border, but the big action, it comes in permitting more workers to stay legally and in deferring deportations. Now, the parents of children who are American citizens born here or legal residents would be able to get papers and work in the United States. That would affect more than 3 million people who've been here for five years or longer if that's the standard they set now.

Of course, all of this is not yet set, not final and there would be another million or so perhaps would be eligible for deferred deportation because of their ties - family ties to people who are given legal status - and additional hundreds of thousands of migrant farm workers who have entered illegally but who have been here for an extended period of time without running afoul of the law could also get legal status.

SIMON: Congressional Republicans don't like this at all.

ELVING: The most vocal Republicans are absolutely up in arms about it. They call it amnesty, of course. They see it as the overthrow of existing law and they're outraged that the president would do this on his own authority. There may be some appeal for some Republicans in that this would also lift the cap that currently exists for H-1B visas - those are visas granted to highly-skilled technical workers - but among the more assertive Republicans, they would give up any thought of an extended appropriations bill which they had hoped to pass next month going through the end of the fiscal year next September and go back to those stopgap funding bills, those continuing resolutions and that carries the implicit threat of a government shutdown.

SIMON: The House voted yesterday to approve the Keystone pipeline. What happens in the Senate?

ELVING: You know, the House approved it easily. This was the ninth time they've done so. Republicans see this as a great job creator and a boost for North American energy independence, but opponents see it as the encouraging development of remote and lower grade sources, such as these Canadian oil sands. In the Senate the bill has a new life because Mary Landrieu is on the bubble.

SIMON: Would be fair to say that in many ways this vote is coming up on Tuesday to assist Senator Landrieu in her re-election?

ELVING: It's hard to see what else has changed. Only the threat that Mary Landrieu is going to be turned out of office has changed and that's why Harry Reid is scheduling this vote and it does not guarantee that enough of her colleagues will join the Republicans and it does not guarantee that the president will sign the bill.

SIMON: Senator Reid is also reportedly eager to bring the NSA reform bill to the floor.

ELVING: Yes, the main idea there is to put a stop to that NSA program - a bulk collection of telephone records - even if it's just a database that's got all your digits and the digits of people you speak to on the phone, the idea of it even existing is very unpopular. Still, the same hurdle in the Senate is always there - 60 votes, just like with Keystone so it's possible that defense hawks and people very concerned about heightened threats to the homeland will be able to keep this from passing next week.

SIMON: NPR editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

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