The clock is ticking on Democrats’ legislative agenda

This week, Congress has returned to work in Washington after the Thanksgiving break and will now finish out its “lame-duck session” – the legislative period between elections and the entry of a new Congress.

This is crunch time for many important legislative goals for Democrats since they will lose control of the House come January. For this week’s Closer Look, we want to highlight a few of these legislative priorities for you and share our opinion on whether or not they are worth pursuing.

One of the highest priorities for Democrats is working out what to do about a variety of expired tax cuts, both for corporations and for needy families. Some major deductions for corporations recently expired, and many members of Congress with tight ties to the business world are looking for a way to extend them. These include: 

  • Research & Experimentation Tax deduction – allows corporations to immediately write off 100% of research expenses, instead of over a period of five years
  • Net Interest Deduction – allows corporations to deduct more interest on loans by changing how the deduction is calculated
  • 100% Bonus Depreciation – allows corporations to immediately write off the full cost of assets that have useful lives of more than one year

Almost every Republican wants to extend these cuts, and many pro-corporate Democrats do as well. But passing a tax cut for corporations as one of this Congress’ last acts would be appalling, especially considering Democrats’ failure to extend the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

This expansion gave parents a tax credit of up to $3,600 per child, and helped to lower child poverty by more than 40% between 2020 and 2021. But unfortunately, in the midst of stalemates and disagreements over Biden’s Build Back Better Act, Congress let the CTC expire at the end of last year. Now, some Democrats want to use the lame-duck session to revive the CTC and give a much-needed financial boost to millions of families and children, and potentially use those expired business deductions as leverage.

Reviving the CTC and cutting child poverty almost in half should be easy to do, but, unfortunately, cutting child poverty isn’t a big priority for Senate Republicans, at least 10 of whom need to support a bill to overcome a filibuster. To get around this, Democrats are trying to pair a CTC expansion with the extension of the expired business credits and deductions.

Democrats should hold fast to their commitment to help working families with the CTC, but not by caving to the interests and demands of corporate donors and lobbyists. Corporations don’t need any help – they are making record profits and paying less tax than ever while they’re at it. It’s children and families that need help. They’re breaking their backs under the weight of record-breaking inflation, most of it brought on by greedy corporations’ successful price-gouging campaigns.

Some Democrats also want to work to raise (or even eliminate) the debt ceiling in the lame-duck session. While the debt limit does not need to be raised until next year, Democrats should use this month as an opportunity to avoid a potentially-disastrous fight in the future. Not raising the debt ceiling would lead to an economically-catastrophic default by the federal government, and a Republican House cannot be trusted to act responsibly. In all likelihood, a Republican majority in the House will use this threat to blackmail Democrats to sign onto cuts to vital social programs that millions of Americans rely on. We cannot allow this to happen, so it’s critical for the Democrats to act fast and fix the debt ceiling during the lame-duck session.

Another priority for Democrats involves passing the Electoral Count Reform ActThe Act would update and reform the somewhat ambiguous 1887 Electoral Count Act that former President Trump tried to use in his campaign to overturn the 2020 election results. It would deter future Presidents from behaving like Trump; for one thing, it specifies that the Vice President has a purely ministerial role over electoral count proceedings. It has bipartisan support, but is unlikely to pass through a Republican-controlled House, so we hope both Democrats and their Republican allies are able to see it through before the new year.

Democrats are also working to avert a potential freight rail strike. Back in September, the White House helped to broker a tentative deal between rail worker unions and rail carriers, but four unions have since voted against the agreement, including the largest involved, which renews the prospect of a rail strike beginning on December 9th that would cripple the American economy.

Yesterday, President Biden called on Congress to force the rail workers’ hands into accepting the deal, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House would vote on this on Wednesday. This was the wrong call. Forcing workers to accept something that they deem unacceptable helps no one but ultra-profitable railway carriers and their billionaire owners like Warren Buffett. Freight rail workers are essential workers – nearly 30% of the country’s freight moves by rail – and so their very simple demands over things like sick days should be treated as the bare minimum, especially when the rail companies are raking in billions in profits. If Congress is going to act to avert a strike, it should do so on behalf of the rail workers and implement an improved deal, rather than bail out the billionaire owners of the rail companies who are playing chicken with the American economy.

Finally, another item on the agenda is SECURE 2.0 – a collection of changes to the retirement system that are intended to build on the 2019 SECURE Act. Some provisions in SECURE 2.0 help low- and middle-income workers, but unfortunately, others really just shower benefits on the wealthy. For this reason, if Democrats want to make changes to the retirement system in the lame-duck session, they would do better to start from scratch and create a bill that isn’t a giveaway to the rich.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of work for Democrats to do before they break again for the holidays. But it’s now or never – if Democrats want to show up for the American people and prove that they are the party looking out for the interests of working families, this is their last chance for two years.

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