The lame duck session of Congress is in the books, with many touts lauding the post-election period of congresspersons actually doing things as the most productive lame duck ever. This sort of glosses over the fact that a lot of the sexier things that passed -- the ratification of the START Treaty, health benefits for 9/11 first responders, and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- were wildly popular with the public and should have been considered "no-brainers." Plus, everyone got a tax cut, because this is the last season of Oprah.
Of course, many in the GOP ranks hated all that productivity, because what's the point of months and months of pointless obstruction if the American people end up seeing what Congress is capable of doing in a few weeks? Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) got very sad about the lame duck session, complaining that "Harry Reid has eaten our lunch." And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) yelped that Reid and Nancy Pelosi have thrown a "pie in the face of the American people." Were the cafeterias not open during the lame duck session, or something?
Credit Rep. Michele Bachmann, at least, for eschewing food metaphors in favor of all-out alarm:
If you want my real opinion, the lame duck is awful. In my opinion it is unconstitutional. The 20th amendment passed in 1933 was meant to eliminate all future lame duck sessions. Congress didn't want to see happen what is happening now.
Again, Congress could have prevented this by being more conscientious during the pre-Election Day legislative session. But, whatever! Naturally, now there is a movement afoot to get rid of lame duck sessions altogether. Per Dave Weigel:
Little-noticed over the holiday week: Rep. Lynn Jenkins tweeting this promise.
"I will re-introduce the End the Lame Duck Act to prevent power grabs as we've seen at the end of this session."
Back in July, Jenkins had introduced legislation that would have forced a sine die (Latin for "Peace out, all of y'all that won't be winning re-election.") adjournment the moment Congress stood adjourned for Election Day. As Weigel notes, the bill only garnered 20 cosponsors back in July, but that was back before Harry Reid started garnishing Lindsey Graham's meals. A new GOP House majority could bring back this means of pretending to ensure that lame duck sessions are a thing of the past.
I say "pretending to ensure" because it's important to be clear on the concept that no Congress is required to follow the rules of its predecessors, so this isn't really a "reform" as much as it is a grandiose legislative snit-fit, undertaken to assuage all the hurt feelings that went down when someone insisted that health care should be given to people who got terminal cancer trying to save lives on September 11th. Jenkins' legislation explicitly provides an out as well, allowing a lame duck to happen in the case of a "national emergency." What constitutes a national emergency? Basically, if there's a time when the GOP could take advantage of a lame duck session themselves, that will be a "national emergency."
With the help of the Wikipedia, let's pause to remember all of the things that Congress has done in lame duck sessions past, shall we?
--In 1950, the 81st Congress passed a defense supplemental and a "$38 million famine relief bill to Yugoslavia," which was like a pie thrown in the face of Yugoslavians, who needed the pie desperately.
--In 1954, the Senate convened in a lame duck session to censure Sen. Joseph McCarthy, for being a historic cretin.
--In 1970, the 91st Congress met in lame duck session all the way until the day before the 92nd Congress convened. There, they took up a ton of business: "electoral reform, the Family Assistance Plan (the Nixon administration's principal welfare reform proposal), occupational safety and health, equal rights for women, manpower training, and funds for the supersonic transport plane (SST)." Also, seven appropriations bills! Results were mixed. The SST only got some money, only two of the seven appropriations were passed, most of the White House priorities foundered. But Nixon did get to veto four bills, making it the last, happy lame duck session he'd get to experience because...
--In 1974, everything was ass-over-tea kettle because of Watergate and Nixon's resignation, and Congress' work had been FUBARed, royally. "President Ford greeted the returning Congress with a 10-page list of legislation he wanted passed before the session expired. In the end, Congress did consider a wide range of issues before it adjourned on December 20, 1974, but its actions were not always to President Ford's liking."
--In 1982, the 97th Congress had a crazy contentious lame duck sesh, filled with bitterness and filibustering. The economy was pretty bad back then, and unemployment was really high, so Democrats tried to get a $5.4 billion jobs program attached to the continuing resolution, but Reagan threatened to veto it, so they backed down. Some things never change, I guess! One thing that did change is that the House passed themselves a 15% pay raise.
--Lame duck session in 1998? No big whoop. Just impeached President Clinton. You probably barely noticed!
--The year is 2000. It was the lame duck session for the 106th Congress. And America was cold goin' nuts for the Striped Bass Conservation Act.
--And, lastly, in 2002, the 107th Congress agreed to create the Department of Homeland Security.
At any rate, it's completely adorable the way that the next Congress may "ban" the lame duck session, until it becomes necessary to give themselves a pay raise or impeach someone they don't like. (Also, Americans really, really approved of this past lame duck session of Congress, but who listens to them anymore?)