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Lame Duck Session in Danger of Lame Outcome

Pelosi and Reid (split)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are poised to end a lame-duck session in Congress this week. (AP)AP

With the elections in the rearview mirror, a lame-duck Congress is preparing to convene its final session – one that might turn out to be quite short and unproductive despite a laundry list of items.

That's because Democrats, who took an election beating last week -- losing control of the House and barely hanging onto the Senate -- will likely be in no mood to wage any tough legislative battles. And Republicans, energized by their historic gains, will likely be less willing to compromise on critical issues just two months before seizing more power.

Congress returns Nov. 15 for a post-election session that will be dominated by tax-and-spending issues. But there also are issues ranging from giving seniors $250 Social Security special payments to repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays serving openly.

After the first week, the session resumes after Thanksgiving. But on Dec. 1, departing lawmakers are required to vacate their offices. If Congress is still in session, they will be relocated to the basement where they will only have cubicles – a scenario that makes it even more unlikely that lawmakers will still be around by Christmas Eve, as they were last year for the health care debate.

A spokesman for one departing lawmaker told FoxNews.com that his boss will be around no matter where his office is located.

"We're here to finish business," said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for outgoing Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas. "That's our commitment to our district."

Speculation is running rampant on Capitol Hill that the House will only be in session for two weeks, but it's not clear why.

"I think it's one recognizing the reality that what the House passes has to get through the Senate, which is still bollixed up," a senior GOP House aide told FoxNews.com. This aide said it's likely that Congress will find a way to avoid a government shutdown when a stopgap spending bill expires Dec. 3 and to address the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts on Dec. 31. Taxes on income, investments and large estates are set to go up, while the $1,000 per-child tax credit would be cut in half and couples would lose relief from the so-called marriage penalty.

The GOP aide said it's possible Congress won't reach a consensus in time to extend the tax cuts. Republicans want to extend them for all Americans while President Obama wants to cap them at $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.

A senior House Democratic aide told FoxNews.com that Democrats plan to consider bills on food safety, child nutrition, appropriations, emergency Social Security payments and taxes.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there is no list yet of what items will be considered. Reid promised to bring up the DREAM Act for a vote in the lame duck session before his re-election victory. The DREAM Act would grant conditional legal status to some illegal immigrant students under certain conditions.

Reid also assured labor officials that he would bring up the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, a bill that would set minimum standards for state collective bargaining laws for firefighters and police officers.

The spokeswoman noted that Reid, before the election, began the procedural process on three bills: the natural gas and electric vehicle bill, the paycheck fairness act and one on food safety. But the spokeswoman said the other items, like the Bush tax cuts, and unemployment benefit, still need to be discussed among the White House and leaders in both parties.

The GOP aide said Reid made those promises to keep portions of the Democratic base happy. Hispanic and union voters were crucial to Reid's triumph over Sharron Angle last week.

But Reid's spokeswoman said getting the items passed depends on Republicans. 

"These are all items important to Sen. Reid," she said. "We'll need Republican support."