PD Editorial: No time to waste in lame-duck session

The clock is running out fast, but the 117th Congress has crucial unfinished business on its agenda.|

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

The clock is running out fast, but the 117th Congress has crucial unfinished business on its agenda.

First, as is so frequently the case in the final weeks of the year, the House and Senate must ensure that the lights stay on — that is, they must avoid another harmful shutdown of the U.S. government.

The resolution funding the federal government expires on Dec. 16. Without congressional action, thousands of public employees will be furloughed heading into the holidays — and Americans will be unable to access needed services.

You can count on plenty of grandstanding, but don’t bet on anything as bold as a basic plan to fund the government through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It’s possible this debate will extend to the debt ceiling, which has become a perennial entry on the Washington crisis calendar as more Republicans threaten to allow the U.S. government to default.

Despite yet another failure to produce a federal budget, this two-year session has been among the most consequential in recent memory. Congress approved legislation on gun safety, health care for veterans, expanded domestic production of semiconductors vital to the economy, infrastructure and climate change.

Before Democrats yield their House majority to the Republican victors of the midterm elections, there still are several important measures worthy of approval.

One of those is an income tax exemption for lawsuit settlements received by victims of California wildfires, which we will address in detail in a subsequent editorial. Here are some others:

Marriage: Americans’ right to marry the person of their choice appeared to be settled law before the U.S. Supreme Court upended a half-century of abortion rights in June. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas invited a challenge to same-sex marriage rights.

Since then, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act, enshrining same-sex marriage rights in federal law, on a bipartisan vote. The bill advanced on a procedural vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving. The Senate needs to move quickly tn a final vote and send the bill to President Joe Biden for his signature to ease fears needlessly stoked by the court.

Electoral reform: Donald Trump’s announcement of a third presidential campaign adds urgency to reforming the Electoral Count Act, the ambiguous 19th century law he relied on in pressing former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A bipartisan reform measure is pending in the Senate, and another has been approved in the House, with a handful of Republicans joining Democrats in Support. The bills have minor differences that must be reconciled. Either would be better than the status quo, and Congress must before the next presidential campaign gets underway to safeguard the outcome in 2024.

Immigration: DACA — the Obama administration policy sparing from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — is facing challenges in federal court. California Sen. Alex Padilla and others want to pass legislation granting these people, know as “Dreamers,” permanent protection. Members of both parties have expressed support for such legislation over a period of years. Pass it now and settle this issue.

All of these seem like easy votes, but given the usual slow pace in Congress, any of these measures would be a challenge to pass in a brief lame-duck session. But the time to act is now, before time runs out.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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