PI Original Adam Doster Thursday September 30th, 2010, 12:17pm

Would Kirk Block Everything In The Lame Duck Session? (VIDEO)

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk thinks Senate Democrats are going to "overreach" during their upcoming lame duck session. And he wants to win Illinois' special election to stop them.

If there's one thing that keeps U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk up at night, it's the U.S. Senate's upcoming lame duck session.

After every election, Congress meets for about six weeks to finish up its business before the new crop of legislators head to Washington. The North Shore Republican, running as the GOP Senate nominee, thinks this common practice is an affront to representative democracy. "The only legitimate thing for the Congress to do is to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the doors open and let the voice of the American people as communicated through their new representatives and senators speak in January," he told Washington Post columnist (and noted torture apologist) Marc Thiessen last month.

Not a day goes by on the campaign trail where Kirk doesn't raise the issue in some capacity. He even launched his own website, saveusfromthelameduck.com, to increase awareness about the possibility of "lame duck overreach." Here's a video he shot discussing the matter:

There's certainly self-interest in this scheme. Because Illinois is holding a special election on Election Day to replace Sen. Roland Burris, Kirk could join the Senate as soon as November 3, bolstering the Republican firewall in the upper chamber. According to Kirk, serving as the 42nd GOP vote "is a game-changer." And most of the bills Kirk says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wants to bring up in the late fall -- card check, a national value added tax -- are nowhere near the top of the Democrat's agenda. (They are, not coincidentally, issues that conservative activists and donors don't like one bit.)

So what bills will Illinois' new senator get to vote on during the lame duck session? Here's a rundown of the possibilities:

Bush tax cuts:

This will be the most politically-charged debate of the session. Kirk wants to see the tax relief extended to all Americans, even though it would blow a major hole in the national deficit. Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias has called on Congress to extend the tax cuts for everyone except those making over $250,000 annually.

Earlier this week, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf testified about the issue before the Senate Budget Committee. What did he find? Although both plans are probably foolish, the less lawmakers extend the tax cuts, the less damage is done to the economy. (A firm majority of Illinois voters, for what it's worth, support the Democratic option.) Point, Giannoulias.

During an interview with Crain's yesterday, Kirk said that he might consider a two-year extension of all the cuts. If he's elected, that's something to remember.

Spending bills:

The Senate will probably take up two major appropriations packages before the year is out: a defense authorization bill and a 2011 omnibus spending bill. Currently, an amendment repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the discriminatory military policy Kirk supports -- is still attached to the defense bill. In May, Kirk voted against that package when it moved through the House. If given the chance, the alleged "social moderate" will probably do so again.

While Congress passed temporary legislation to keep government operating through December 3, it has yet to approve its annual spending bill. Republicans are already crying foul, promising a big legislative brawl and a potential government shutdown. In the past, Kirk has crusaded against earmarks, which are routinely tossed into these types of packages. There's no way he hops off his hobby-horse now, even if it forces a dangerous government shutdown.

START Treaty:

This is a big deal and has flown under the radar. The pact, between Russia and the United States, would reduce both country's nuclear arsenals and allow U.S. inspectors to continue monitoring the former Soviet stockpile. It passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago and now needs 67 votes on the floor to be ratified. (The Nation's podcast on the subject is very informative, for those looking to bone up.)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have both cheered its passage, particularly because it poses no threat at all to the U.S. missile defense system. "Without this treaty," writes Joe Cirincione, president of Plougshares Fund, "[former President Ronald] Reagan's plan for a steady decrease of nuclear arsenals verified by rigorous inspections will fade."

Kirk, a national security hawk, has made no public statements about START that we can find. (Nuclear non-proliferation is also not discussed on his campaign site.)  It's an issue reporters should press him on.


While the Senate plate is full, and floor time is limited, Democrats might have to try and squeak through a few more pieces of legislation before January. Those could include an extension of unemployment benefits (which run out on November 30 and which Kirk has consistently voted against this year), Sen. Dick Durbin's DREAM Act (which Kirk helped defeat this month), recommendations from President Barack Obama's deficit commission (which should include a tax increase, to which Kirk is opposed), and a national renewable energy standard (which Illinois already has and Giannoulias supports).

All in all, it will be a busy fall on Capitol Hill. And if Kirk wins in November, Republican obstruction will only get tougher to overcome.


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