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By Niels Lesniewski and Bridget Bowman, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — There’s no “fiscal cliff” or global financial crisis for this year’s post-election lame-duck session, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Lawmakers will be faced with a couple of old favorites: another extension of government funding and the menagerie of lapsed tax breaks that comprise the “extenders” package. A continuing resolution that will need to be adopted before Sept. 30 is widely expected to run until around Dec. 11. And just about everyone in Washington has a favorite bill they’d like to get across the desk after the most do-nothingest Congress ever.

But should the election winds blow in favor of Republicans on both sides of the Rotunda, they would likely be eager to punt to 2015, when a GOP-led Senate could work together with its House counterparts on advancing an agenda designed to blunt the effects of the last two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Regardless of which party has the gavels in 2015, the lame duck will be the last chance for a handful of retiring Democratic chairmen to advance their priorities. Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), is the most likely to get a big bill signed into law. For 53 straight years, the annual defense authorization bill has overcome partisan stalemate.

The lame duck also could give new life to a host of stalled, fairly noncontroversial bills. Take, for instance, bipartisan energy efficiency legislation championed by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. The bill itself has broad support, but it flopped repeatedly in the 113th Congress as part of the much broader feud about amendments.

And then there is the hot-button issue of immigration — with President Barack Obama vowing to take executive action after the elections even as Congress is wrapping up its work.

Speaking before Congress left town for the August recess, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Republicans would want a quick session if the elections go their way.

“I hope there’s not one and I wonder if, and I emphasize if, the Republicans got the majority, if we did it at all I think it would be incredibly short because we’re not going to pass stuff when they, when we’re going to be in the majority,” he said.

While McCain’s legislative logic makes sense, there’s another piece of the puzzle: pending nominations.There remains a backlog of executive branch nominations, particularly within the diplomatic corps.

If Democrats lose control of the Senate, there will be a huge incentive to push through as many nominations as possible before Republicans take over.

With a Republican majority led by Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Obama would have to come hat-in-hand to confirm his picks.

Even if Democrats don’t lose the Senate, clearing nominations while they hold a larger majority would remain a priority. And unless Democrats go “nuclear” again to tweak the rules, rules at the beginning of the next Congress are set to give the minority more power to delay nominations.

There’s also a real chance the lame-duck session could begin with a period of suspended animation, with party organizational activities and decision-making about the agenda frozen by a potential Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana, if neither incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu nor a Republican challenger clears the 50 percent threshold on Election Day in November.

In such a scenario, it would be no surprise to see the Senate slogging through those nominations.

AFP Photo/Michael Mathes

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Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.