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US Senate winner to miss part of lame-duck session

November 6, 2010

Republican Sen.-elect Mark Kirk greets commuters at a downtown Chicago train station Wednesday morning, … SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Unlike two other newly elected U.S. senators, Republican Mark Kirk won't be seated in time for the start of the lame-duck session of Congress later this month.

The postelection session begins Nov. 15. But state officials say the paperwork officially declaring Kirk the winner of Illinois' Senate race won't be delivered to Washington until Nov. 29, and then the Democratic-controlled Senate would have to sign off on Kirk's admission.

That should still allow Kirk to participate in two weeks of the session in December, but he had strongly argued during the campaign that voters needed to send him to the Senate quickly so he could help stop the administration from raising taxes and spending more money.

Two Democrats filling empty seats are expected to be sworn in at the start of the lame duck session. They are Chris Coons of Delaware, who will fill the remainder of Vice President Joe Biden's term, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who replaces the late Robert Byrd.

Most people elected to Congress on Tuesday won't take office until January. But Kirk not only won a six-year Senate term that starts next year, he won the right to serve out the last few weeks of the current term. He will replace Democrat Roland Burris, who was appointed after Barack Obama was elected president.

Kirk wouldn't discuss the situation Friday. His campaign said he was getting some rest, and released a statement saying: "The Senator-elect looks forward to being seated as soon as possible to ensure fiscal conservatives have another vote to hold the line on spending and keep taxes low."

Congress has a busy agenda — discussing whether to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, passing legislation to keep government operating, preventing steep cuts in Medicare reimbursement for doctors, considering the START treaty on nuclear weapons and more.

As a member of the House, Kirk still will get a chance to vote on most key measures in the lame duck session.

During his Senate campaign against Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk often suggested that deciding who would serve during the lame duck session was as important as deciding who serves the next six years — maybe even more important.

He called it "an incredibly big deal" because Democrats might try to pass huge spending bills, a national sales tax, public voting in union elections and more.

The process of officially declaring Kirk the winner and transmitting that information to Washington has several steps.

First, local election authorities finish counting votes and send the results to the State Board of Elections. The deadline for that is Nov. 19, said David Druker, spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. On Nov. 23, the Board of Elections meets to officially certify the winner.

After that, White and Gov. Pat Quinn sign a form notifying the U.S. Senate that Kirk has been elected. The paperwork then goes to the Senate, which next meets on Nov. 29.

That's when Kirk would likely be sworn in, giving him an advantage in seniority over others elected to the Senate on Tuesday.

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