Lame-duck lawmakers have returned to Washington, with a host of potential issues for them to consider in a session that will be split by Thanksgiving.
About the only known at this juncture is they will be in this week and exit Friday for a week-long break for Thanksgiving, aiming to return the week of Nov. 29. But beyond that, nothing is assured in terms of what they will -- or won't --accomplish yet this calendar year.
Why the uncertainty? Because there are several issues they could either vote on or leave for the new Congress which is seated in January.
President Obama meets with congressional leaders from both parties Thursday to discuss one of the potential action issues -- the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. President Obama and White House officials have made it clear they won't back a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. They back extending the cuts for individuals making under $200,000 and couples under $250,000 and have signaled a willingness to discuss the breaks for those above those thresholds, but obviously not a permanent extension.
How the session Thursday unfolds could have a big say in what lawmakers will attempt to do before they exit in December.
Other items of interest to agriculture that could potentially be considered:
Biofuels: The biodiesel incentive program lapsed at the end of 2009 and lawmakers were unable during the course of 2010 to get it restarted (retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010). The ethanol production incentive (VEETC) and import tariff program are set to expire at the end of this year.
If lame ducks don't take action to extend these items, it's not clear how they might fare in the 112th Congress where Republican control of the House is expected to focus on spending and budget cuts. One factor that helped keep lawmakers from coming to terms with resurrecting the biodiesel credit was finding budget offsets.
Estate taxes: For 2010, there is no estate tax but it will spring back to life in 2011 with a $1 million per-person exemption and a 55% rate for estates beyond that mark. Many observers expect lame ducks will punt this one to the next Congress to hash out, unless they include it in a package of tax extenders that could be considered. The focus on this issue is centering around the levels that were in place for 2009 -- a $3.5 per-person exemption and 45% rate for estates beyond that mark.
Child nutrition: The House failed to act on the Senate-approved child nutrition reauthorization package before the existed Washington in October. The hold up there has been on how to pay for the extra spending in the bill. The Senate used $2.2 billion in cuts to the food stamp program in the future to pay for a portion of the extra spending. But some Democrats in the House balked at that approach.