Monday, December 20, 2010

Why we don't need lame-duck Congresses any more

The Washington Post looks at the history
of the lame-duck sessions. The Twentieth Amendment set the date for when the new Congress needs to be called into session. That was ratified in 1933. There is even less need today to have a lame-duck Congress. All but a few seats are decided on Election Day. Give a couple of weeks for close elections and the new Congress could be sworn in by Thanksgiving or maybe the following Monday. Sure it takes time for the new congressmen to get their staffs set up and offices organized. But if there were no emergencies, the session after the election would be pro forma. After all, newly elected senators to positions being held by temporary replacements are somehow able to be sworn in and take office right after the election. If new senators like Senators Manchin or Kirk can report for service right away, so could the entire Congress.

The real work could begin in January. And if there is still important work to be done, why should those who are retiring or have been voted out still be the ones to make decisions for the country?

The existence of a lame-duck session after the election just encourages congressional leaders to leave controversial decisions until after the election. That is an insidious enticement to delay important decisions until after the voters had made their choice. Wouldn't it be better for all of us if voters had known how their elected representatives voted on items like the budget, taxes, the START Treaty, DADT, or the Dream Act before they went to the polls? If there were not going to be a lame-duck session, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid might not have held off on these votes.

It seems time for a Twenty-Eighth Amendment that would simply move up the time for the new Congress to be seated. This could be a bipartisan effort since both parties can anticipate being in the minority waiting for their turn to take the helm. The Democrats were in that position in 2006 and the Republican House members are there today.