Fiscal Cliff 2013: What Congress is Really Doing While Everyone Talks About the Fiscal Cliff

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles covering progress of the lame duck session of Congress. To read the first, second, and third articles, click on the link.

After taking a week off for Thanksgiving, Congress resumed its lame duck session. While partisan one-upsmanship and the public relations games continue on fiscal cliff negotiations, is anything worthwhile going on?

The answer is clearly “yes.” Two more bills received final passage by unanimous consent in the Senate and will now go to the president. One bill made changes to the Child Pornography Protection Act. The other allows the Director of Homeland Security to create a program for removing the requirement for international baggage that was screened at the point of origin to be rescreened upon arrival in the U.S. This could be an important first step in a more common sense approach to air travel security.

The Senate continued to show signs of bipartisan cooperation. By unanimous consent, Senators passed a resolution increasing sanctions on Iran. Then during debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, the following amendments were passed with the noted votes:

            54-41 striking a prohibition of biofuel refinery construction

            62-33 accelerating the Afghan war transition

            54-41 prohibiting funds to transfer prisoners out of Guantanamo  

            67-29 prohibiting the arrest and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens

            53-41 rejecting a measure to ensure sufficient sizing of the civilian and contract     services workforce of the Department of Defense

In the House, it was mostly routine business. One exception was the passage of the STEM Jobs Act, eliminating the diversity visa program and using its annual 55,000 visa allocation for college graduates with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The bill passed on a vote of 243-170 with 10 Democrats voting in favor. Not an overwhelming show of bipartisanship but more than what we’ve become used to seeing.  

There are just over two weeks remaining before the 112th Congress recesses for its final time, breaking for Christmas and the New Year. Out of media and public scrutiny, Congress is working. The fiscal cliff makes this irrelevant.