Undemocratic Lame Duck Session
Democracy and Power 101: Government is power
The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.
James Madison, Speech in the Virginia State Convention of 1829-1830
Undemocratic Lame Duck Session
In the Washington Post, Bruce Ackerman wrote an excellent history of the 20th Amendment, which limits lame-duck sessions. Ackerman, a law professor at Yale, cites Time magazine in 1932: Congress passed the 20th Amendment, which “promised to eliminate the legislative influence of Senators & Representatives whose constituencies have already repudiated them.”
Then Ackerman essentially asks, “Why is America having a lame-duck session?” Unfortunately, the text of the Amendment was unclear as to what power Congress had, if any, after an election. So in the 1930’s, the politicians wisely decided Congress maintained power for national emergencies.
Because of travel conditions and communication restraints, America expected no legislative activity following an election. Ackerman quotes the Chicago Tribune: “the defeated legislator has only about seven weeks to hold onto his job and except in extraordinary cases Congress will not be in session during this time.”
Deplorably, many restrictions of power embodied in the Constitution have been dismantled in the past century. Similarly, Congress has emasculated the 20th Amendment and Ackerman names recent enactments by lame-duck legislators:
They have been making very big decisions: passing NAFTA in 1994, impeaching President Clinton in 1998 and creating the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. These large initiatives serve as precedents for the coming lame-duck consideration of such weighty matters as permanent tax relief and the New START arms treaty with Russia.
This is autocratic and another extension of unfettered federal power. Americans want this abuse of power stopped and have consistently voted for term limits, less taxes and other restrictions on government. Time after time, the coercive power of government outweighs, demolishing Constitutional limits. The Democrats were shellacked because of their abuse of power. Previously, the Republicans were removed for abusive spending and refusing to follow Constitutionally required declarations of war.
This desecration of the 20th Amendment harms America. Presently, no emergency exists. Cowardly, Congress intends to act on legislation that should have been considered prior to the election. Thus, any action by Congress and the President violates the philosophical underpinnings of a democratic republic. Approximately, 1 in 5 Members of Congress will not be in the next Congress, and are not accountable to their constituents or any American.
It is utterly undemocratic for repudiated representatives to legislate in the name of the American people. Worse, the prospect of a lame-duck session encourages sitting politicians to defer big issues till after Election Day and thereby avoid scrutiny by the voters.
A Congress and a President that respects the Constitutional process and the American people would not hold a lame-duck session.
And in January, the new Congress should enact legislation prohibiting la ame-duck session except in a national security emergency.