By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., Aug. 9, 2010 – Washington is abuzz with talk of a lame-duck session of Congress after the November mid-term elections. Many pundits seem to assume that the Democratic leadership will call the solons into session after the elections (with the Democrats having done very poorly, possibly losing their control of the House in the new 112th Congress, beginning in January).
The daffy idea, which sends shivers (although maybe just crocodile shivers) down the right side of Republican spines, is that an outgoing Democratic majority will assemble for one last legislative bender. The Dems will then enact all the bills they couldn’t get through the pre-election House and, particularly, the Senate. Card check. Immigration “amnesty.” Global warming. Shudder. The outgoing Democrats, the conventional GOP wisdom appears to hold, will feel no political consequences once freed from the constraints of facing voters. They will vote their consciences, which implies that they haven’t been doing that for the past two years.
Here’s Charles Krauthammer, expressing the classic conservative nightmare scenario (faux or otherwise): “A lame-duck session, freezing in place the lopsided Democratic majorities of November 2008, would be populated by dozens of Democratic members who had lost reelection (in addition to those retiring). They could then vote for anything – including measures they today shun as the midterms approach and their seats are threatened – because they would have nothing to lose. They would be unemployed. And playing along with Obama might even brighten the prospects for, say, an ambassadorship to a sunny Caribbean isle.”
The Democrats have provided political tinder for this campfire. After climate legislation flamed out in the Senate, John Kerry of Massachusetts said he hoped to bring the whole smelly climate subject up again in a post-election session. Then the White House pitched in, with energy czarina Carol Browner claiming on a Sunday TV chat show that climate legislation isn’t dead, it’s only sleeping until the ducks limp home to roost post Nov. 2.
That prospect has the GOP in a tizzy. But it’s mostly for show, designed to scare the bejeezus out of Republican voters to ensure high turnout for the coming election and beef up contributions. Today, the Huffington Post reported, the House GOP leadership said they will introduce a resolution “for the purposes of preventing Democrats from passing legislative items during the lame-duck session” and will attempt to use the measure to hold up votes on additional Medicare and teacher funding. HuffPo reporter Sam Stein wrote that House aides cited Browner’s remarks in justifying their parliamentary shenanigans.
Freedom Works, a Washington-based, self-proclaimed tea party umbrella group headed by former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey, and former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich have been pushing the idea of attempting to forestall a post-election session. The thoroughly odious TV hack Glenn Beck has also been trumpeting madly about a lame-duck session. It’s all balderdash.
HuffPo’s Stein observed, quite correctly, that the House resolution “appears likely to produce nothing more than Kabuki theater — which that Democrats aren’t necessarily averse to enjoying.” Procedurally, the GOP won’t be able to get a vote on the resolution (this has to do with inside political baseball so arcane it causes headaches).
My suspicion is that the GOP is pushing the House resolution, and may launch other grandstand attempts in the Senate, not only to hype the coming election, but also to thump their chests and take credit if the Democratic leaders decided not to bring Congress back to Washington in November. I’m betting that the Democrats will duck a lame-duck session. And even if they do flock to Washington in November, nothing controversial will get done.
The Democrats would be foolish to call Congress back into session after the election, They were asleep at the controls in letting the Republicans make the lame duck a political entree. There is nothing that requires Congress to come back to Washington after the election; there is nothing to be gained politically from a post-election pity party; there is peril down the road for the Democrats if it occurs.
Here are four good reasons, courtesy of Politico, why a lame-duck session, particularly one aimed at revivifying cap-and-trade, is lameoid: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jim Webb of Virginia. All are moderate Democratic senators up for reelection in 2012 in difficult, Republican-trending states.
Add a fifth reason: West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who’s likely to win a special election Nov. 2 to fill the unexpired term of the late Robert Byrd. If there is a lame-duck session, Manchin will be seated in the Senate, and will be running again in 2012.
Regardless of the foolish bravado of Kerry, Browner, and other clueless Democrats, there are nowhere near enough votes in a lame-duck session to pass controversial measures such as cap-and-trade or anything like it. Even Dan Weiss, the climate guy at the liberal Center for American Progress and a former long-time Sierra Club air lobbyist, recognizes the futility. “The odds that a global-warming bill will happen in a lame duck are the same odds that a Shetland pony will win the Kentucky Derby,” he told Politico.