The lame duck session of the 110th Congress started today. Three issues will frame the lame duck session of Congress and determine the second half of President Obama's first term. Handled well and the first two years will also look brighter. Handled poorly, and they will look worse.
The first is the extension of the Bush tax cuts. The White House should stop giving mixed signals, draw a line in the sand not far from the $250,000 point and dig in. If a bill reaches the Obama desk outside that line, he should veto it. The Republicans can then offer their own bill in the new Congress and take responsibility for paying for tax cuts with other revenues or specific program cuts. The polls indicate strong support for this position and if the President does not stand with the public and his consistent position, when can he be trusted to take a stand? Many Democratic members of Congress lost their seats supporting President Obama, he owes them some backbone.
The second issue is the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don''' tell" (DADT). Again, the polls are with the President and, as leaks to various newspapers indicate, so are the troops. Senior military and civilian leaders support the repeal with only the U.S. Marine Corps lagging. This was a signature promise of President Obama's campaign. Again, if he will not stand strong on this issue, when will he. He should press the Senate, especially the Democrats and remaining moderate Republicans, to echo the House's move and include the provision in the Defense Authorization Bill. Again, if a bill reaches his desk without it, he should veto it.
Finally, there is the New START agreement. The public strongly supports Senate approval. All former secretaries of state and defense that have spoken out support it as have past national security advisors, strategic commanders and retired military officers. Yet the opponents want to delay to the next Congress knowing that would result in starting over and killing the treaty by amendments or by Russia simply giving up on us as a serious strategic partner. Enough funding has been added. It is time to consider the national security interest and vote. A failed vote is preferable to death by a thousand cuts in the next Congress.
If neither New START nor DADT are dealt with before Christmas adjournment, the Senate and (for DADT) the House should be called to a special session between Christmas and New Year's and told to listen to the people and act in the national security interests of the United States.
A strong finish by the president will cast the first two years in a better light and set the stage for a strong second half. That is where most contests are won.