After November's Election: December Crunch Time

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Illustration by Wes Duvall for TIME

July is an odd time to be thinking about Christmas, but this year both parties are already looking ahead to December, which could be the hottest political month of 2010. Several of Washington's key debates are stacking up like reindeer over O'Hare during the winter holiday rush. December is the month President Obama is expecting to get the results of a crucial review of the war in Afghanistan and a report from a blue-ribbon commission on deficit reduction, two issues vexing enough that the deadlines were deliberately kicked past November's elections. White House staffers will be writing both a budget and a State of the Union address that will set the tone for the second half of Obama's term. And whether or not they maintain their majorities, Democrats on Capitol Hill will be dealing with reverberations from dozens of midterm contests. There's rampant speculation that they could convene a lame-duck session of Congress to try to pass major energy legislation or move forward on other issues, like immigration, that they consider too toxic to take up before the elections.

Congressional Republicans will be busy too — either evaluating what went wrong in the midterms or planning their transition to power in one or both chambers. Meanwhile, the GOP field of 2012 presidential contenders will begin to take shape as potential candidates who are staying mum for now about their ambitions use the final month of the year to decide whether to take the plunge — or, in some cases, begin their march toward the party's nomination.

With confirmation hearings and congressional clashes in full swing, this summer has been a busier time in Washington than usual. But Beltway types cooped up in the capital shouldn't plan on making up for lost vacation time in December.