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Campaign for Liberty to Congress: No Lame Duck

While most of America's attention is focused on the upcoming election, Congressional leadership has already begun planning for the post-election "lame duck" session.

The House and Senate are currently engaged in negotiations over passing a short-term continuing resolution extending government funding until December 9th. The House is likely to pass the resolution sometime in the next two weeks, setting up a lame duck session after the election.

When I began working for Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul's congressional staff  in 1997, Congress still completed their appropriation bills before elections. It was considered a mark of failure for Congress to have to come back into session after an election to complete work on spending bills and other legislation that they refused to consider during the regular session.

In fact, Representative Bob Livingston based his campaign for House Speaker on the promise of no lame ducks.

But what was once thought of as failure is today standard operating procedure.

Lame ducks allow Congress to pass huge spending bills and other controversial legislation when they think most people are not paying attention.  

Even worse, lame duck sessions made a mockery of the idea of "representative" government by allowing Representatives and Senators who have just been defeated for reelection to vote on, and even propose, important legislation.

The lame duck system does benefit politicians who do not wish to ensure the anger of voters and/or special interests before the election by voting for (or against) controversial legislation. 

This is an essentially valid concerned when, as was the case in 2010 and 2014, a lame duck follows an election in which party control of House and/or Senate changed. The signature "achievement" of lame duck sessions is the "omnibus" or "minus" spending bills. These are the massive thousand-page spending bills pieced together behind closed doors and rushed to the door of Congress, sometimes literally in the days (or day) before Christmas.

In 2012/2013 the US Senate passed the legislation addressing the "fiscal cliff" at approximately one in the morning on New Year's Day. 

Rushing this massive bills to the floor when everyone in DC is desperate to get home for the holidays makes it easier for leadership to get votes for the bill.

In addition to taking advantage of members desperation to not be in DC, a large omnibus bill allows members to point to some of the good things in the bill--such as some "riders" forbidding government from spending money on certain onerous regulations or a provision benefiting a local business interest, a local college, or a great concern to local officials.

Members can also claim ignorance when certain particular offensive provisions become public knowledge, and claim that they will do all they can to repeal them.

Campaign for Liberty has joined several efforts to convince Congressional leadership not to hold a lame duck this year.

In April, Campaign for Liberty signed a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell urging Congress to not hold a lame duck session:

April 14, 2016 The Honorable Mitch McConnell Majority Leader of the Senate Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Paul Ryan Speaker of the House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Leader and Mr. Speaker:

As the 114th Congress approaches the midpoint of its second session, we the undersigned urge you to not hold a so-called "lame duck" session at the end of this year.

Historically, lame duck sessions have been used by both parties to enact backroom deals that are neither beneficial to the American people nor representative of their will as expressed in the elections of only a few days or weeks before.

Past lame duck sessions have produced, among other actions, massive tax and spending increases, increases in the gasoline tax, pay raises for members of Congress, and ratifications of treaties that threaten U.S. sovereignty.

At a time when the American people's trust in their government is near an all-time low, the Republican-led Congress should demonstrate exemplary behavior by completing its work before the November elections so that voters can judge all the legislators on the basis of the votes they have cast.

Because legislators who have been defeated in an election or are retiring are no longer accountable to the voters for their votes, any actions taken which required their votes are essentially undemocratic.

The Republican-led Congress must not provide President Obama with an additional opportunity to enact his agenda of progressive social engineering programs and job-killing economic policies before he leaves office.

A lame duck session would be his swan song: he can be expected to leave no arm untwisted, no threat unmade, no quid un-quod, to get his dream-policies enacted, his liberal judges confirmed, and his international agreements approved. And all of it could be done without any concern for what the voters actually want because neither he nor the departing legislators will ever face the voters again.

We think that's a bad way to run a democracy After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia a few weeks ago, Leader McConnell stated that "the American people, rather than a lame duck president whose priorities and policies they just rejected in the most-recent national election, be afforded the opportunity" to fill the resulting vacancy on the Supreme Court ."

We respectfully suggest that the American people deserve that same opportunity with regard to confirming other federal judges, as well as to passing legislation and making international agreements.

It will be necessary, however, for Congress to hold pro forma sessions on a regular basis (as distinguished from regular legislating sessions) in order to prevent the President from making a recess appointment to the Supreme Court.

By promising now that there will be no lame duck session of Congress (except, of course, in the case of an unforeseen sudden emergency requiring immediate federal action) the Republican-led Congress can take an important first step in restoring the American people's trust in their government.

By making it absolutely clear that there will not be a lame duck session, the Republican leaders in Congress will encourage all members of Congress to complete the people's work in an orderly manner before the elections, putting an end to the unfortunate practice of recent years of governing by manufactured "cliffs and crises" at the end of the year.

The American people want, and should have, good representation by their elected officials. The way to get good representation is by having the opportunity to hold those officials accountable. True accountability means finishing Congress' work for the year before the November elections and not holding a lame duck session.

Last month, Campaign for Liberty signed a "Memo to the Movement" circulated by the Conservative Action project, designed to gain support for libertarian and conservatives to oppose the lame duck.

Memo for the Movement 

Congress Should Not Hold A Lame Duck Session

September 6, 2016 Washington, DC As Congress approaches the end of their second session, we conservative leaders want to emphasize the message we sent to the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate in April of this year: Congress should not hold a so-called "lame duck" session after this year's elections.

Historically, lame duck sessions have been used to enact backroom deals that are neither beneficial to the American people nor representative of their will as expressed in the elections of only a few days or weeks before. Past lame duck sessions have produced, among other actions, massive tax and spending increases, pay raises for members of Congress, and ratifications of treaties that threaten U.S. sovereignty.

At a time when the American people's trust in their government is near an all-time low, Congress should demonstrate exemplary behavior by completing its work before the November elections so that voters can judge all the legislators on the basis of the votes they have cast.

Because legislators who have been defeated in an election or are retiring are no longer accountable to the voters for their votes, any actions taken which required their votes are essentially undemocratic.

To that end, Congress should not pass any continuing appropriations bill that expires during the post-election period, necessitating additional action to avoid a government shutdown. Congress must not provide President Obama with an additional opportunity to enact his agenda of progressive social engineering programs and job-killing economic policies before he leaves office.

A lame duck session would be his swan song: He can be expected to leave no arm untwisted, no threat unmade, no quid un-quod, to get his dream-policies enacted, his liberal judges confirmed, and his international agreements approved. And all of it could be done without any concern for what the voters actually want.

We think that's a bad way to run a republic. The American people want, and should have, good representation by their elected officials. The way to get good representation is by having the opportunity to hold those officials accountable. True accountability means finishing Congress' work for the year before the November elections and not holding a lame duck session.

Read the letter and see the whole list of signatures here and then read the memo to see the whole list of co-signers here.

Since Congress will not consider the continuing resolution until next week at the earliest, there is still time for Campaign for Liberty members to call their Senators and Representatives to tell them to vote against any continuing resolution that expires before the new Congress is sworn in during January.


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