By Maurice E. Duhon, Jr.
It’s kinda like leap year (comes around every now and then). Any time your Congress meets after the new incoming Congress has been elected, you’ve got yourself a “lame duck session” of Congress. The phrase “lame duck” dates back to 18th century Britain. The term could be used to describe bankrupt businessmen who were vulnerable due to their financial state and were similar to a game bird injured by a shot. Around 1830 the term would evolve to describe office-holders who held a definite termination date.
Basically, before the days of the internets and the youtubes, Congress would break to prepare for elections and if nothing crazy happened in America they could relax until January 3rd if they declared this fact in advance and mutually agreed, providing the President did not demand they return to session. Congress prefers to word this as an “adjournment sine die”. Translated from Latin this means to adjourn “without day”. With this, Congress is not required back into session until the day set by the Constitution, Jan. 3, (or by law) for its next session to convene. Any time your country sits in a dismal economic state with an unemployment rate bordering 10% and a national debt towering high enough to shadow a crumbling school system, you probably do not want your Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen having photos surface of them sipping a non-alcoholic margarita and testing out the limbo stick on some Disney cruise ship. Thus, our Congress is symbolically working “over-time” as I type.
Don’t let the silly name fool you. A lame duck session is not to be underestimated. Let me paint you a picture of pure fact. The year was 1998. Both the House and Senate would adjourn “sine die” on Oct. 21. The resolution for adjournment gave authority to both the leaders of the house and senate to reconvene Congress if they deemed it so necessary. The resolution was granted in anticipation of action to impeach President William J. Clinton. Because of the added resolution prior to “sine die” adjournment, the House was brought back into session on December 17, 1998, to consider a resolution of impeachment (H.Res. 611). On December 19, the House adopted Articles I and III of the resolution by votes of 228-206 and 221-212. It then, by a vote of 228-190, adopted a resolution appointing and authorizing House managers for the Senate impeachment trial. The House then adjourned sine die. The blue-print for the impeachment of President Clinton, one of the most publicized political ordeals of the 20th century, was constructed and implemented during a so called “lame duck” session. Congress would go on to impeach Clinton only to be disappointed in the Senate’s vote that ruled for an acquittal.
A number of Republicans chose to publically ridicule President Clinton, during the proceedings, for his alleged adulterous actions and would later find their own selves in “hot-water” as their own personal behaviors would soon come to light.
- Newt Gingrich In 2007, the Majority Leader Republican leader admitted to having had an extra-marital affair at the same time that Clinton was being impeached.
- Henry Hyde (R-IL) Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that recommended impeachment.
- Robert Livingston (R-LA) immediately resigned when his own affair was discovered.
- Bob Barr (R-GA) who was one of the 13 House Managers on the Judiciary Committee.
- Helen Chenoweth (R-ID),
- John Ensign (R-NV),
- Larry Craig (R-ID),
- Dan Burton (R-IN) 
- Steve LaTourette(R-OH).
Now before we go any further, I need to make this clear. The motivation for my writing of this piece is to express to fact that your Congress is able to pass legislation and conduct business on any issue it deems fit while in this “lame duck session” as long as their year’s agenda was pragmatic and focused and willing to solve certain pressing issues at hand i.e. “goals with specific end terms and deadlines for decisions” or considering our Congress’ permanent lag, “getting any work done, period”.
In a moment, the focus of this piece will shift and before it does so, I must solidify my present thought’s point of origination once more. I am attempting to inform you, in case you are innocently unaware, that your Congress has had a slow and unproductive year. A “mad at the driver for driving too fast towards the Piggly Wiggly” type of year (see video below). A year swallowed-up by a health-care debate that churned out a law that has now been federally ruled as unconstitutional, months wasted trying to convince you a few “fine print changes” in credit practices were going to change the monster that is today’s predatory credit service practices. Your 111th Congress, who’s approval rating flails at around 19% (on a good day), has NOT shown itself to be functional or even as relevant as many other tax payer funded congresses of past years.
Focus Shift: I am going to paint you another picture. I will use facts as my paintbrush and our nation’s former integrity will serve as our canvass. In other words, I’m gonna tell you what another Congress was going through in 1980. It just sounds better, when I say it the other way.
As I share these notes of “ancient” political history, I only ask that you seriously attempt to visualize and comprehend the stark and obnoxiously obvious similarities between the Congress of 1980 and your present Congress today. Please note the similarities of the issues they were dealing with right around this same time of the year.
Also, it is most important you note how the past Congress summed up the year of 1980’s legislative business and observe how it compares to the “joke” of a bi-partisan compromise, which was given to you, the American tax payer, at the conclusion of one of the most fiscally depressing years to be recorded in our civilized history.
The year was 1980. Democrats held a majority in both the House and Senate (sound familiar?). Some in office felt postponing final congressional action on many major issues until a post-election would delay difficult pre-election votes on budget matters and would allow those in office to enjoy a longer campaign session for re-election (makes logical sense if lacking moral judgment). Large Republican gains would result from the election (this is just getting creepy). The major legislation issues the Congress had chosen to place on the back-burner were, budget reconciliation, several major appropriations bills, and landmark environmental legislation (it’s like a parallel universe).
What makes the Democrats of old differ from their present brethren is the fact that the lame duck Congress of November 12 thru December 16, of 1980, chose to lick their wounds and complete action on many of the issues they held “hostage” while straddling the fence to gain an easy vote for re-election. This Congressional body, in a lame duck session, passed a budget resolution and a budget reconciliation measure; five regular appropriations bills, one was vetoed; a second resolution was approved to continue funding for other parts of the government; an Alaska lands bill and a “superfund” bill to help clean up chemical contamination (some things never change); a measure extending general revenue sharing for three years; a measure that made disposal of low-level nuclear waste a state responsibility (are you counting these with your fingers?); and changes to military pay and benefits, and authority for the President to call 100,000 military reservists to active duty without declaring a national emergency.
Issues our Congress placed on the back burner for 2011’s Congress to deal with include…
- Health-Care coverage for 9/11 Rescue Workers whom have yet to receive help and some who have passed away due to respiratory complications and other health problems.
- The renewal of the START Treaty, a bilateral treaty between the United States of America and Russia concerning the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, i.e. NUCLEAR WEAPONS!
- THE DREAM ACT or a more practical path to Citizenship
- DADT, Don’t ASK Don’t TELL
- A major Climate Change Bill
- Comprehensive Tax-Reform
- Revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement
The spooky similar parallels aside, all this, all these items, all these legislative changes were brought to the table and passed and Americans at that time were able to witness first hand, the gears that made our great country function in a proper legislative manor. I say this hoping you did the math as I mentioned the dates and you realize this “lame duck” congress was only in session for a few days longer than one month.
Remember this information as your Senate most likely, and I mean 99.9% most likely, approves this “troll” of a tax extension compromise. Remember this info while your Congress, both Republican and Democrat, claim this “shiny rotten apple” of a tax-lien being placed upon our national debt to be President Obama’s fault and idea. Once again, I refer to my own personally coined affirmation, “I am no Rocket-Scientist, but Politics is not Rocket-Science”. I say this meaning it is recorded fact, the completion of Congressional action on appropriations and the budget has been the focused task for most lame duck sessions in recent years including 1974, 1980, 1982, 2000, and 2004. If this is true, which it is, what could cause you to not believe or comprehend the fact, your 111th United States Congress played you and your fellow Americans like a game of (insert your favorite game here).
With this being said it seems, in my humbly rational and logical process of thought, your Congress knew there was no chance of your President not stepping in and intervening to clean up the non-compromising and morally unsound mess they had made. It was not your President’s responsibility to form this “cow-pie” of legislation. Just as they did in 1980, your Congress chose to play it safe and wait for the mid-term elections to pass while you, the very people paying them to perform and act, lay in the grasp of massive homeowner foreclosure, a staggering unemployment rate, 0% job creation, a $12 trillion national debt, 50 million American citizens living with chronic pain, and an embarrassingly severe deteriorating infrastructure. How convenient it must be to dodge the issues that affect the American people, wait for the President to scrape-up a solution, and then blame the short-comings of the presented solution on the President in the process, and do this all while receiving a salary earning more a year than 90% of the very people who pay your wages.
I now realize why “Dancing with the Stars” is such a popular television program. In our present-day America; who wouldn’t want to Dance with the Stars? Especially, when your only other option is to Tango with your Reality.
If your still with me. Just allow me a few more moments in order to blow your mind. If you have time, please watch the provided, “Driving Ms. Daisy” movie trailer (which I’m sure you’ve seen). I am asking you to please watch it once more and imagine Miss Daisy as the Republican Party and imagine Morgan Freeman as the Democratic Party. If you can do this, the movie trailer will basicaly show you what happened all year in your United States Congress. Give it a try, please.
Dan Akroyd as Obama, Freeman as the Democrats, and Tandy as the Republicans