Nov. 6, 2012
Lame-duck sessions are the worst legislative device ever conceived by Congress except, apparently, for the alternative. How else can one explain that these rump sessions have been held in nine of the past 10 Congresses, counting this one?
The alternative, of course, is for Congress to complete all its work before the elections and adjourn until the next Congress convenes in January. But that has proved increasingly difficult for Congresses prone to procrastinate.
Tied to this is Congress’ propensity to avoid tough votes that could be used against Members in their re-election campaigns. These votes can occur on amendments to routine appropriations and authorization measures as well as on new initiatives over which competing interests can tie Congress in knots (see the pending cybersecurity bill).
The reason lame-duck sessions have been disparaged and discouraged historically is that they are usually unproductive and always unpredictable: There’s no telling which lame-duck Members (those defeated or not seeking re-election) will show up and, if they do, how they will vote because they no longer owe fealty to party leaders or constituents. Moreover, there is a commonly held belief that outstanding issues should be put off for the next Congress and president who will be more responsive to the most recent electorate’s wishes.
Don Wolfensberger is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.
Read the full op-ed here
Democracy Project, 2012 Politics