Christmas Crunch in Congress | FoxNews

We knew that the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve would be a train wreck on Capitol Hill.

It just wasn’t clear until a few days ago that Congress’ already bloated agenda for the holiday might include real railroad cars.

All aboard the Congressional Express.

Heading into the holiday season, Congress had to avoid a government shutdown. Pass a defense bill. Rewrite the Electoral College Certification Act. Pass legislation protecting same-sex and interracial marriages. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is scrambling to conjure up the votes to become Speaker next year.

But Congress’ first Christmas crisis in 2022 came by rail. After much hand-wringing, Congress intervened to prevent a nationwide holiday rail strike.

The US Capitol Christmas Tree stands on Capitol Hill on November 29, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

And you thought only Snow Miser and Heat Miser could screw up Christmas.

Lawmakers were reluctant to get involved at the behest of President Biden.

“This is an urgent issue and Congress needs to step up. We don’t like doing this. We would prefer to see the parties do this through labor negotiations. But there is no other alternative at this point,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“This dog is not going to hunt with some Republicans,” said Senator John Kennedy, R-La.

“There are mixed views,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Senate Republican views. “Some tend to vote against, others argue that the economic price of doing nothing is too high.”

SENATE PASSES BILL TO PREVENT A RAIL STRIKE THAT COULD HAVE REALIZED THE ECONOMY BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS

“I don’t know why we have to do this, but apparently we do,” said a reluctant Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C. “I want to make sure we don’t damage the economy.”

“A strike or any type of shutdown would hurt us at a time when our economy is just beginning to show positive signs of recovery,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

President Biden dispatched Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to Capitol Hill on Thursday. Their goal was to warn pro-union senators of the consequences of inaction.

Unlike other industries, however, Congress has the power to enforce conditions to avert railroad and airline strikes.

This is thanks to the Railway Labor Act. In the early 20th century, Congress considered federalizing the railroads because they were so important. But they opted instead to introduce special negotiation rules and a working committee to settle disputes. Congress also gave itself the power to stop all strikes. Legislators later extended this power to airlines.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers brief remarks before signing bipartisan legislation to avert a railroad workers' strike in the Roosevelt Room of the White House December 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers brief remarks before signing bipartisan legislation to avert a railroad workers’ strike in the Roosevelt Room of the White House December 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Congress has participated in only one rail strike so far. The International Association of Machinists launched a three-day strike in 1992 and shut down the country’s railways. Congress quickly passed legislation to prevent strikes or lockouts, and the dispute was settled.

For this reason, civil rights activists, small-government Republicans, and pro-labor lawmakers viewed the railroad dispute with skepticism. However, the aftermath of a rail strike just before the bank holidays – amid an economy already tattered by inflation – is a recipe for disaster.

Still, the liberal push for sick leave could have weakened the bill to avoid a rail strike.

“This amendment simply says ‘seven paid sick days for rail industry workers,’ and I hope we can win it,” Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., argued in the Senate.

But paid sick leave for railroad workers failed to score 60 yes points to overcome a filibuster. Only 52 senators voted yes.

“If we had 60 votes in the Senate, it could potentially happen. But we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,” lamented House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

A RAIL UNION STRIKE WOULD CREATE A ‘CRANKING’ ECONOMY, INDUSTRY OFFICIAL WARNS

Some Republicans didn’t want Congress to impose its will on the unions. Instead, they hoped to intervene in other ways. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, created a plan that mandates a two-month “cooling off” period for unions and railroad companies.

“It will give negotiators more time to reach an agreement. And it won’t make Congress the last resort in this type of negotiation,” Sullivan said.

But Sullivan’s plan proved even more unpopular than Sanders’ amendment for seven days’ paid sick leave. The Sullivan Amendment received just under 26 votes.

Railroad workers got wage increases on the deal. But the progressives downplayed this victory for the unions.

“The workers got a 24 percent wage increase. That sounds like a lot of money,” Sanders said. “You haven’t received a raise in the last 3 years. And when you average it, that pay rise is less than today’s inflation.”

But the Senate eventually passed the bill by 80 – mostly reluctant – yes votes to avert the strike. This move coincided with action by the House of Representatives earlier in the week. President Biden signed the package Friday morning.

December #1 Crisis averted.

The lighting of the US Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington, DC on November 29, 2022.

The lighting of the US Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington, DC on November 29, 2022.
(Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Now for the rest of the crises that will plague Congress through the holidays, if not into January.

The biggest problem is government funding.

“Hopefully an agreement will be reached soon,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Congress faces a December 16 deadline to avoid a government shutdown. But it’s becoming increasingly likely that negotiators may need to prepare an interim spending bill, known in Washington as the “Continuing Resolution” or “CR.” Such a bill puts federal lighting on hold. But it simply increases all government spending to the old level.

Hoyer also said the annual defense policy bill is not ready yet. He hoped the House Armed Services Committee would have submitted the text by Friday. But nothing to do.

There is hope in some circles to pass legislation banning lawmakers from trading in stocks. They also hope to approve a final solution to DACA through the DREAM Act.

“It’s time to deliver for our DREAMers,” Rep.-Elect Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

This is the Christmas convention crunch.

It sounds like a wondrous, edible holiday treat. Maybe dipped in milk chocolate. A taste of toffee. Maybe it goes well with mulled wine or hot cocoa.

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But the Christmas convention crunch is anything but.

It’s easily the least appetizing dish on Capitol Hill.

And it is only served at this time of the year.

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