Before we look ahead to next year’s Congress, work remains this year for sitting legislators. A lame-duck session before the end of the year could be productive and beneficial for the American people.
The most pressing issue is a spending bill. The current continuing resolution funding the federal government expires Dec. 16; if a deal is not reached before then, the government will shut down, leaving many workers without paychecks through the holidays.
There also will be discussions about whether to raise the debt ceiling or leave the issue for the next Congress — which will see Republican control of the House of Representatives.
In addition to keeping the government running, Congress also can address two social policy issues that demand attention.
One involves protections for same-sex marriage. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states could not prohibit same-sex marriages, citing the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
As demonstrated in this year’s decision leaving abortion rights up to the states, the current court has little concern for precedent. In a concurring opinion to the abortion decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” including the right to same-sex marriages.
Legally, we will leave it to scholars to debate whether same-sex marriage should be up to the states. But morally, it is clear that gay people should have the right to make a lifelong commitment.
The House passed legislation codifying the right to same-sex marriage, by a 267-157 vote that included 47 Republicans (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted against the measure). Now, the Senate appears close to approving a slightly different version of the “Respect for Marriage Act.”
Senators should recognize a fundamental right that is supported by a majority of Americans, protecting it from the whims of a Supreme Court driven by dogma.
Congressional members also should pursue improvements to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The decade-old policy protects immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children from being deported.
More than 600,000 people in the U.S. — colloquially known as “Dreamers” — benefit from DACA protections. For many of them, this is the only country they have known, after arriving here through no action of their own.
As Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said: “The courts have put DACA at risk moving forward, and we want to make sure that we offer the ability for these individuals who have had DACA status and are American in every way — except the piece of paper — to continue and to have hopefully a legislative solution to a path to citizenship.”
Bolstering the policy appears unlikely; it has been in place for a decade and Congress has failed to address it. But Democratic leaders have said it is a priority during this year’s lame-duck session. Republicans have stated opposition to protecting Dreamers unless Democrats agree to increasing security at the southern border and rejecting asylum-seekers.
Considering that improvements to immigration policy have been needed for years yet have been ignored by members of Congress, it is unlikely that compromises will be forged in the next few weeks.
But even as pundits debate the results of the midterm elections and the coming changes to Washington, D.C., there is plenty of work to be done.