Feasting on Lame Duck

Why do we do this in America?  Why do we have representatives who have been kicked out by the voters, still deciding critical public policy in what are called “lame duck” sessions of Congress? 

 Thirty-nine of our 50 states prohibit ousted lawmakers from making laws or changing laws after the election they lost, but Congress is different.  It all creates an interesting and politically weird climate in Washington.  Some of the major issues, like extending the tax cuts and “don't ask, don't tell” were deliberately left for the lame duck session so some lawmakers would have nothing to lose and could vote for what they want rather than what their constituents want.  We just accept this season of the “lame duck” as part of our American landscape even though some of these people casting these critical votes have been fired. 

 Let's play “what if”.  What if the government was a private company and half of the top managers were fired one day because they were not doing the job.  But, instead of packing up their desks, they showed up at work the next day and started causing havoc with company policy and personnel.  That would never fly on Wall Street, but we allow it in Washington. 

 Presidents face this same “lame duck” status because the Constitution does not allow them to serve more than two terms.  For nearly two years, presidents can serve as “lame ducks” when their second terms are expiring.  It's their chance to try to push for the pet programs and projects they spend the previous 6 years trying to accomplish.

 Now, here is what you might not know.  We don't have to have these lame duck congressional sessions.  When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was amended in 1933 to allow for a lame duck session, the intent of the discussion at the time was that the session could handle an urgent crisis, not pass legislation without any accountability.  The game now in Washington by the party in power is to instead use the lame duck session to squeeze through laws that would not otherwise pass or to squeeze the other party into voting for things under an impending deadline.

 On January 3, 2011, the new Congress takes over.  If they are truly committed to changing the way Washington works maybe they will vow to use the “lame duck” for what it was intended and stop the games.  It makes for great drama after the contentious mid-term elections, but it may not be a good way to govern our republic.

Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook