Why the Lame Duck Congress Should be a Dead Duck

November 28, 2010

In the coming weeks the lame duck Congress will try to pass legislation rejected by the American voters on Nov. 2. Congressmen and senators who lost their seats in the election have a few more weeks in which they will try to impose their will on the American people.

Why do we have lame duck sessions and can they be abolished? Betsy McCaughey recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about how lame duck sessions where supposed to be abolished in 1933:

Lame duck sessions were unavoidable before jet planes. The framers of the U.S. Constitution provided 17 weeks for newly elected members to travel to the capital and take their seats on March 3. That was the 18th century.

In 1933, Americans ratified the 20th Amendment to eliminate lame duck sessions. It set Jan. 3 as the day newly elected members would take their seats. That still left seven weeks after the election, but no one imagined that the old Congress would return to the capital during that time.

For a half-century, the 20th amendment worked. Except during World War II and the Korean War, Congress did not reconvene after November elections. But for the last two decades, lawmakers have hurried back to the capital after Election Day to deal with spending bills and controversial legislation they deliberately had avoided before the election.

There are two urgent matters before the Congress: the federal government’s authority to spend will end at the end of this week. Although many of us hate to see the debt ceiling raised again, it is a reality we will have to live with until we are able to pass large spending cuts. With two wars, a dangerous situation in North Korea and other essential government functions at risk, the lame duck Congress needs to pass a limited extension of spending authority for a couple of months. The new Congress can then start attaching spending cuts to future increases in the debt ceiling.

We are also faced with a large tax increase January 1 when the Bush tax cuts expire. The lame duck Congress should extend the current tax rates indefinitely. If Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid cannot bring themselves to allow a vote on this, Republicans should block any scheme that raises taxes on a weak economy and take up the matter in January when they can retroactively keep the current tax rates.

Beyond this, the lame duck Congress should do only one thing: adjourn.

Democrats want the lame duck Congress to vote on all kinds of legislation they failed to pass in the past two years. This includes the DREAM act, which gives in-state tuition to illegal aliens, abolition of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on gays and a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. President Obama even wants the Senate to ratify the START II disarmament treaty with Russia without giving the Senate time to do its usual due diligence when ratifying treaties with foreign powers. None of these issues are urgent and they should be debated and voted on by the new Congress.

Republican should block all of these last-minute efforts of Democrats to ignore the election results. They can quote President Obama who responded to Republicans wanting their ideas incorporated in Obama’s bills. He simply responded: “We won.” Yes, and now the opposition to Obama socialism has won and shouldn’t be willing to compromise and let a Congress with members that have been kicked out by the American people pass legislation rejected by the voters.

In January, the new Congress should pass a law that simply states that Congress will not reconvene after the November, 2012 election. Let’s make this lame duck session the last.

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