July 31, 2011 – 6:20 p.m.

Debt Deal May Mean No Holiday From Late-December Votes

The congressional committee on deficit reduction that appears likely to be created as part of a debt limit package has the potential to cause major disruptions in family harmony later this year — at least for the already weary Washington community of lawmakers, aides, lobbyists and journalists.

The deadlines under discussion for the joint committee to complete its recommendations to Congress, and for the House and Senate to vote on the proposals, would set the stage for a third consecutive pre-Christmas legislative rush.

House Speaker John A. Boehner , R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., each included creation of a 12-member bipartisan, bicameral committee in their latest proposals to increase federal borrowing authority and reduce future budget deficits.

Both plans would require the panel to vote on its recommendations by Wednesday, Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving and normally one of the biggest travel days on the calendar and normally a time that would find Capitol Hill nearly deserted. No matter what the panel proposes, the reaction is bound to include plenty of turkey references.

Even worse, perhaps, is the expected Friday, Dec. 23, deadline for House and Senate action on what are almost certain to be highly contentious proposals that could include cutbacks in entitlement programs and perhaps tax changes.

Bigger issues than the committee’s deadlines were in play over the weekend, and lawmakers did not appear to have absorbed the practical implications of the panel’s mandate. Most of the discussion about the proposed committee dealt with its potential membership and what should be considered when it tries to find something like $1.8 trillion in 10-year savings.

A rush of legislative activity in the days leading up to Christmas would continue a recent pattern, at least in the Senate, that has drawn bipartisan complaints.

Last year, the Senate was in lame-duck session and voting through Dec. 22, when the chamber voted to consent to ratification of the New START arms control treaty.

The congressional lack of regard for holiday plans was even more evident two years ago, when the Senate met on Christmas Eve — for the first time since 1963 — to pass its initial version of the health care overhaul ( PL 111-148 ).

There was, coincidentally, another Senate vote on Dec. 24, 2009 — to clear a bill increasing the federal debt limit by $290 billion ( PL 111-123 ).