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Monday, December 20, 2010
THE TWENTIETH AMENDMENT WAS SUPPOSED TO DO AWAY WITH THE "LAME DUCK" CONGRESS: SO WHY HAVE WE SPENT THE LAST DAYS OF 2010 WATCHING ONE?
An end to lame duck sessions had long been a Progressive era goal. But when it finally passed, it needed a compromise: Congress would close not on the day after the election but on January 3, meaning that a lame duck session could still meet, albeit with seven weeks to do its work instead of the seventeen that the original Constitution's March date had offered. The thought was that real emergencies could make a lame duck session crucial to the business of the country and, in fact, during the succeeding decades, war was the primary motivator for a sitting Congress to return even though elections had chosen a new one.
Then, starting in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and the "Contract for America" gave President Clinton and the Democrats a bruising, lame duck sessions became the norm. The lame duck passed a new GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) treaty that year, creating the World Trade Organization. Another impeached President Clinton in 1998. A third created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. So, naturally, few complained this year when the lame duck 111th Congress passed tax relief, an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and now considers a new START treaty. But are these really "emergencies" or attempts to work out agreements before a new Congress, more hostile to Democrats, takes office in January?