Now that Halloween and the elections are behind us, Washington is primed for another frightening spectacle: the lame duck Congress.
That’s when zombie congressmen, blasted by voters last week, return to Capitol Hill to pass laws and budgets the rest of us will have to live with for the rest of our lives.
The Walking Dead are busy lurching toward K Street to feed on jobs if not brains. So to help guide them through the essential tasks in the upcoming lame duck session, we offer this handy checklist.
Item 1: President Trump says the first order of business is building the border wall. Polls show border security is a top priority for the American people, regardless of party, so this should be easy, right?
The issue is finding the money, but that shouldn’t be hard.
Congress could stipulate that billions from criminal asset forfeitures and settlement agreements the government has banked will be used for crime prevention – building the wall.
If that’s too straightforward, another approach involves the Washington version of hostage taking.
The lame duck has to approve “must-pass” legislation that includes billions of dollars to keep the government open. Attach funding for the wall to this “must-pass” legislation – which also includes things Senate Democrats want – and Congress is forced to act on it. QED.
Another time-honored tradition is a straight-up horse-trading swap. Schumer wants a Mueller-protection law. The president wants an America-protection wall. Let’s make a deal. Boom. Done.
That brings us to Item 2: Criminal justice reform. The bill, favored by President Trump, Democrats and many Republicans, would fund prison education and vocational training, reduce mandatory-minimum sentences and help drug offenders.
It would make sense to combine items one and two in a grand bargain – fund the wall and pass prison reform.
President Trump says, “We’re all better off when former inmates can receive [a second chance] and re-enter society as law-abiding, productive citizens.”
The best shot at a second chance is a good job. The wall will ensure a favorable job market by reducing the influx of low-skill, low-wage labor that drives down wages for everyone. The wall creates a tight labor market, and that favors former inmates looking for work and a second chance.
Because of the tight labor market, we’re seeing rising wages and more job openings than there are applicants to fill them. Congress can build on this (no pun intended) with Item 3: Infrastructure.
Congress won’t approve a major infrastructure bill in the 12-day lame duck session, but it can take steps to fast-track infrastructure projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. These projects put Americans to work (see Item 2) and provide long-term, long overdue benefits to our country.
Speaking of long overdue, there’s Item No. 4: The farm bill. It covers everything from crop insurance and conservation to disaster aid and dairy. It expired in September, and Congress has been hung up over a work and training requirement for food stamp recipients. (That jobs thing again.)
Should Congress get through all those, it might take on one more item: entitlement reform.
We’re talking about Jim Acosta’s press pass, the one he regards as an entitlement.
But if Congress can’t get to it, no problem. Like so much of what the executive and legislative branches used to do, it’s in the hands of the courts now.