Congress is back, but it's a very different world. And everyone is scrambling, for different reasons. Lame duck? Maybe the lamest. Get anything accomplished? Hardly. No need to, not now. TPP gonna pass, the president's Trans-Pacific Partnership landmark trade initiative, supported by Republicans? No, that's gone. Pass a budget? Uh, no. Omnibus spending package? Nope--just extend the CR. Energy bill? Hardly. Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)? Maybe. And then go home and get ready for the 115th Congress in January.

The old Congress is back for what was supposed to be a busy and fairly successful lame duck legislative session, all within 16 days. But not now. The elections changed that, drastically. The mood is different--the Republicans are gleeful, the Democrats are glum. Just a week ago the GOP was reeling, facing a disastrous national election. But that didn't happen; it's the other way around, and the Democrats are floundering. Mitch McConnell has never smiled so much. Paul Ryan is beaming. And why not? Just days ago his speakership was on the rocks, and rumors flew around the Capitol that he would resign his seat this week. Not now. He'll be unopposed tomorrow when the House Rs meet for leadership elections.The GOP not only retained a House majority, they kept losses to a minimum--a net loss of 6 seats, with 3 still undeclared, including 2 in the Louisiana runoff on December 10. But they won't make a difference. The Rs are in charge, and emboldened more than ever. Today the edge in the House is 239-193.

True, McConnell lost 2 seats but retained the majority after predictions of electoral upheaval. Didn't happen, and they have Donald Trump to thank for that--he saved seats in WI, MO, PA, and NC. And McConnell gets a two-fer: he can look forward to working with a new minority leader on the other side when Chuck Schumer replaces Harry Reid on January 3.

Lame, lame duck

And that's another reason the lame duck session might not amount to much. And why should it? There's not much legislation that is considered "must pass," and the list of legislative priorities looks a lot different today than it did one week ago when everybody--everybody--thought Hillary Clinton would win. Today, the list is slimmer, and the GOP has a plan: do what you have to, do what you must, and go home. Because the new 115th Congress will be a lot more fun, and productive.

Here's a quick rundown of the lame duck session, circa 2016:

--Here this week, gone next week, then return in December; total of 16 days.

--CR runs out December 9.

--This week, leadership elections on the Hill will make headlines--this is what the Members care about, including putting a spotlight on the new chair of the DNC (Rep. Keith Ellison of MN just announced he's running; Howard Dean wants the job, too).

--Tuesday the House GOP votes for their leadership team, which will remain unchanged with Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Cathy McMorris Rogers at the top.

--Thursday it's the House Dems; will also probably remain unchanged with Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn.

--Wednesday both parties in the Senate will elect their new leaders: the Rs won't change the team, but the Dems might see a race for the number 2 spot if Patty Murray challenges Dick Durbin. Bernie Sanders wants something, he just doesn't know what.

--Continuing Resolution: this is truly must pass, because funding all government operations runs out December 9. But what to do, how to handle this? Forget a series of "minibus" bills; forget a bigger omnibus package. The Rs will try to push for a slimmed down, cleaner CR that includes funding all programs at current year levels and will extend the CR until sometime next spring, like March or April. This gives everyone a breather and gets ready for a new White House.

--NDAA: also must pass, sort of. Every single Congress has passed a defense authorization bill, and even this do-nothing Congress doesn't want to stop that streak. This should happen, despite some controversial provisions like House GOP workforce discrimination provisions over sexual and gender orientation that are opposed by the White House.

--Iranian sanctions: this will also get done, because the current terms expires this year, and Congress has bipartisan support to extend the sanctions bill for another 10 years. But it's a big lift.

--TPP: will not happen. No Obama trade legacy.

--WRDA: maybe. This is tricky, because under normal conditions you think this would be popular. And it is, but these aren't normal conditions, so even though the House and Senate have passed their own versions, and even though this represents real infrastructure spending, it might not make the final list. That's unfortunate for at least two major reasons: the Senate version of coal ash legislation is included in this bill, and so is the spending package to help resolve the Flint water crisis. Congress is close, but some leaders want to hold off until next year, when they can all work together on a new trillion dollar infrastructure bill, something strongly supported by Trump.

--Energy conference: unlikely, or at least it's waning, and chances are dimming. There's been little enthusiasm for an energy bill,and now there's less. Last week the Senate sent over to the House their conference proposal, which looks a lot like their original bill, but the House doesn't care. Haven't see it, but understand the bad EMP language disappeared, which is good, and the vegetation management language remains, which is also good. Also, no Castor amendment on solar, and no other PURPA provisions. More good. But there are too many bigger ticket items--DOE deadlines for natural gas, public lands, LWCF--and that won't help.

--Tax, and I mean energy tax credits: tough call, because if there's no energy bill they need a separate extenders bill, and there's little stomach for that right now, even for fixing last year's tax mistake that left out geothermal, small solar, biomass, and fuel cells from the tax credit basket. That's a shame, but there's still an understanding that this might make the cut in the end.

That's about it, unless you're Mitch McConnell and want to pass the 21st Century Cares bill, which among other things would expedite the FDA approval process for several products.

All this in 16 days. Now 15.