It's still seven more weeks before the Republicans' dream election becomes a reality, but change already is in the air as lawmakers return Monday for a postelection session of Congress.

More than 100 freshmen, 90 percent of them Republicans, arrive on Capitol Hill to be schooled on the jobs they will assume when the next Congress convenes in January.

Lame-duck sessions are usually unpopular and unproductive, and that's more the case this year.

Republicans are looking ahead to January, when they will take back control of the House. Many Democratic lawmakers and staff are more focused on cleaning out their desks and looking for new jobs. That doesn't mean they can slack off.

Congress must act before year's end on expiring Bush-era tax cuts to protect millions of people from significant tax increases. Lawmakers have failed to pass even a single annual spending bill this year, so they must now act to keep federal agencies financed and avoid a government shutdown. They also may shield doctors from a crippling cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Democrats still command sizable majorities in both the House and Senate, and have other ambitions for the lame-duck session, though most will go unfulfilled.

There are efforts to give Social Security recipients a $250 check in lieu of going without a cost-of-living increase next year; to extend unemployment benefits; to allow gays to serve openly in the military; to ratify a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia; and to extend government oversight of food safety.

Congress will be in session for a week, break for Thanksgiving week and then return on Nov. 29, staying until lawmakers either complete their work or give up.