Friday, October 29, 2010

All that remains after a stampede of elephants is one big lame duck.

Disclaimer:  The following is a news story for my media seminar in DC.  It was due today, and after some great editing (thanks again Sara!), I feel confident enough to share it with you.  Since I am posting this to my blog, I also felt confident to keep the editorial comments at the end--ones that did not make it into final draft for class...

Washington — The next session of Congress may see a lame-duck pattern similar to last session if Republicans win the House majority next Tuesday—reinforcing partisan divides and delaying key issues.

After the election, Congress will have stacks of unfinished budget legislation to mark-up in committees and debate on the floor, but the larger issues facing the upcoming lame-duck (expiring Bush tax cuts, an energy bill, immigration, cap-and-trade, or even for the new Obama stimulus package) could bring policymaking on Capitol Hill to a screeching halt.

Currently, an omnibus budget bill for FY2011, the bill that keeps lights on in Washington and an entire payroll of federal employees happy, still awaits legislation, but Congress does not return to Washington until after Veteran’s Day.

Meanwhile, Republicans would like the chance to put off other important legislation until the 112th Congress is sworn in—a potential Republican majority for both houses—but the funding bill can’t wait.

In August of this year, Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) forced a vote on a resolution to block passage of any “controversial” policy proposals during a lame-duck.

He warned against the “last chance” for Democrats to pass card-check, an energy tax, and other government programs.

While his resolution failed on a largely party-line vote, Rep. Price set the tone for the weeks and months following the mid-term elections.

He also hinted to a few interesting points:

What if lame-duck sessions freed lawmakers to vote differently then they otherwise would have? Would we see radically different behavior from legislators during the lame-duck session after they see defeat at the polls?

That rarely ever happens, but lame-duck sessions have been quite commonplace: there were 17 held from 1940 through 2008, or one after every two elections.

To be sure, some sessions were pro forma and accomplished very little while others targeted a single issue or action.

In the weeks before groups of Democrats were sworn in to compete with Republican presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan after the 1982 election, the lame-duck passed numerous delayed appropriations bills, an increase in the gasoline tax, and a pay raise for itself.

When Republicans took control over the House in the 1994 elections after 40 years under control of Democrats, the lame-duck Congress passed one piece of legislation: a major trade bill to implement the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was accomplished on a bipartisan basis.

Newt Gingrich, a potential Republican nominee for the 2012 Presidential election, recently said Democrats have “no moral authority” to legislate during a lame-duck session.

“There’s a good chance [2010] is going to be a bigger election than 1994,” Gingrich said.

While Gingrich largely repeated the rallying cry used by Republicans to fire up the base this election season, he didn’t mention his use of a lame-duck session to impeach then-President Bill Clinton after significant Republican losses in the 1998 midterms.

The most interesting aspect about the lame-duck could be one of two possibilities not commonly discussed:

First, Congress could set a date to convene the new session after the election and adjourn the existing one with no date for resumption until January.

Second, President Obama could call the recessed Congress back into session at a specified date following mid-term elections.

Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has talked up the possibility of “staying in session as long as it takes” for lame-duck action.

If Democrats lose their majority in November, the lame-duck session might be their last chance to achieve many of their legislative goals for at least two more years--if not more.

For those Democrats facing defeat on November 2, they really have little left to lose. In fact, they might as well go to the gallows, set a new precedent, and be historic liberal reformers by legislating.

1 comment:

  1. It is going to be really interesting to see how things play out after tomorrows elections.