On November 15 Congress will reconvene for a “lame duck” session to try to complete unfinished business before the end of the term. This year, the lame duck session is especially lame, with dozens of Members of the House of Representatives and several Senators booted out by their disaffected constituents. This article summarizes some of the issues confronting the lame duck Congress — and when you look at the list you begin to understand, perhaps, why voters were so frustrated.
For example, this Congress has not passed any spending bill to specifically authorize expenditures by the various agencies of the federal government. In order to prevent a general government shutdown, they will need to enact some kind of omnibus, catch-all spending bill. As we all know from the “stimulus” legislation and “health care reform” legislation passed earlier by this Congress, the bigger the bill, the more opportunity there is for Members of Congress to insert spending for pet projects or political cronies. This Congress’ failure to deal with spending in the proper way, by debating specific bills in an orderly fashion and allowing opportunities for amendments, has helped to crystallize the sense of rampant corruption and backroom deal-cutting that, I think, contributed so mightily to the electorate’s “throw the bums out” mentality earlier this week. Will the lame ducks be able to resist one last opportunity to insert a sweetheart deal in some unreviewed provision of a sprawling bill that undoubtedly will be rushed to the floor and considered without an opportunity for amendment?
Other issues also are looming. Should the Bush-era tax cuts be extended, and if so, how? Should the impending cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors be avoided or modified? Should unemployment compensation benefits be extended again, and if so for how long? Should a $250 check be sent to all Social Security recipients? (The latter proposal, if adopted, will simply confirm the complete spending irresponsibility of this failed Congress.) Or will the lame ducks decide to do as little as possible, and concentrate instead on a higher priority — finding out how to keep some kind of job in Washington before their terms expire?