In my two previous Pajamas Media columns on stopping the lame-duck threat, I dealt with the importance of moderate Republicans and the key special election situations in Delaware, Illinois, and West Virginia. Both of these strategies are bearing fruit, and it’s worth noting that Maine’s Senator Susan Collins was recently asked about the lame-duck session at a public event and said she is “not going to play that game.” That it would be “just wrong” and “blatantly against the will of the people.” It’s also worth noting that the Republican candidates in all of the special election states have taken strong stands against the lame-duck agenda. But it may not be enough.
Harry Reid recently told left-wing activists on a conference call that the Senate will postpone consideration of energy legislation until after the election. Reid reportedly said: “[W]e’re bound to come back in a lame-duck session. … Maybe after the elections we can get some help from Republicans on these key issues.”
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to persuade moderate Republicans, Reid may be successful. Retiring Republicans like Judd Gregg and George Voinovich — and involuntarily retiring Republicans like Robert Bennett and Lisa Murkowski — may be inclined to support some or all of the lame-duck agenda. (Kit Bond and Jim Bunning are also retiring, but do not seem inclined to play ball with Reid.) These Republicans may not be susceptible to political pressure from back home, with their Senate careers over.
So, in the end, the fate of the radical lame-duck agenda — which could include everything from cap and trade to card check to multi-trillion dollar tax hikes based on the deficit commission recommendations — could come down to what a handful of moderate Democratic senators who are in cycle in 2012 decide to do. The reason is that the votes that take place right after the 2010 election will be the first votes of the 2012 cycle and will take place in the immediate aftermath of a potential wave election. The 2010 election may send a powerful warning to 2012 Democrats on the importance of listening to their constituents — a warning that will have to be amplified with specific pressure to oppose the lame-duck agenda.
The energy issue, now confirmed by Reid to be on the lame-duck agenda, could be the most difficult politically for 2012 Democrats. Whether it’s full-blown cap and trade or something similarly devastating to affordable energy like a so-called renewable electricity standard, for senators like Jim Webb of Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Bill Nelson of Florida the pressure will be enormous. President Obama himself has said that under his energy plan “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” That’s not a good way to start out the 2012 cycle, and their constituents can make that clear.
It’s not just the energy issue. Union priorities like card check and pension bailouts are also a major political liability in those states, as is the idea of jamming through massive changes to entitlement programs and trillions of dollars in tax hikes based on the president’s deficit commission.
These enormous policy changes would be politically dangerous under any circumstances, but to force them through in a matter of weeks over the holiday season? In a body full of people who already lost their bids for re-election? Without the benefit of proper hearings or committee action? If strong grassroots pressure is applied to the group of senators I listed above, it’s hard to imagine most of them buckling under for Harry Reid, who may himself be a lame duck at that point.
During last year’s holiday health care debate in the Senate, it would have taken just one courageous Democratic senator to stand up to Harry Reid and stop the health care takeover from passing on Christmas Eve. Not one of them did. Activists concerned about the lame-duck agenda need to make clear to the 2012 Democrats that if they do the same thing this time voters will remember in November 2012.