Lame Duck Session: Original Intent and Reality

Liberty Alerts, JBS Freedom Campaign

Certainly there is something very wrong about having those who have been voted out of office granted the opportunity to pass legislation the people vehemently oppose. Currently 39 individual states forbid lame-duck sessions. So, how did we get to the point where a federal lame-duck session, which could see bills of great magnitude passed, is allowed to take place?

Before 1933, lame-duck sessions did occur with some regularity, as the second session of Congress extended from December through March 4 with the inauguration of a new President and Congress taking place in March. These sessions were not well attended, due to distance concerns in an age when travel was much more difficult, and were not sessions that allowed for much serious debate and bill passing. Alarmed at what he considered even one contentious lame-duck session, Sen. George W. Norris, who was a Republican from Nebraska, put forth a resolution six times from 1922 to 1932, to end the lame-duck sessions by moving the starting date of Congress from March to January. This was finally accomplished by the ratification of the 20th Amendment that took effect in 1933. So, the intent of the 20th Amendment was to eliminate the long lame-duck sessions that existed at the time.

With the reconfiguration of the congressional calendar but no actual law to prevent a lame-duck session, 17 of these sessions have taken place since 1933. Again, the intent was that lame-duck sessions would be used sparingly and only for emergencies. But as with all things in government, the intent and practice has been abused, and has worsened over time.

Some of Congress’ most dastardly work, not significant in amounts but in issues, has occurred in lame-duck sessions in modern times. For example in 1994 the lame-duck session of the 103rd of Congress ushered in a permanent system of international control of our trade by passing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which established the World Trade Organization (WTO). And in 1980 the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (superfund) was pushed through so it could be signed by President Carter before President Reagan assumed office. The 2002 lame-duck session saw the Department of Homeland Security’s establishment, among other things.

Former Republican Representative Mickey Edwards had this to say recently about the ethicalness of a lame-duck session:

A lame-duck session is appropriate if (a) there is important and urgent additional work to be taken up, and (b) if the legislative majority has not changed hands.

In general, a lame-duck session is a breakdown of the representational system, particularly if the majority party loses congressional seats. The defeated and retired representatives no longer have any binding ties to the citizenry, and therefore the temptation for chicanery and treachery becomes great.

This year’s lame-duck session looks to be dangerous for those sacred freedoms and liberties protected by the Constitution. It is an abuse of the law-making process. Relying on a lame duck to finally pass appropriations bills to keep government running is a dereliction of duty and an insult to the voting public.

Contact your representative and senators and let them know that, even though the House rejected a measure in August to prohibit this year’s lame-duck session unless a great emergency existed, you are vehemently opposed to lame-duck sessions in general.

Since there is a lame-duck session this year, several items should be addressed, such as extensions of the Bush-era tax cuts, patching the Alternative Minimum Tax to reflect increasing inflation, and ending estate taxes.

Used with the permission of the John Birch Society.