Under Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the President of the United States "may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them" into special session. Presidents have used that authority only a handful of times in the modern era.
But as we enter what could be a joyous season if the nation were not teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff, it would be an excellent time for President Obama to use that authority now. The lame-duck Congress, with its consistently dismal record of putting party and ideology over the national welfare, has taken "lame" to new and unacceptable heights. Its members, particularly in the House, should be compelled to spend Christmas at work.
Without resolving the tax and spending issues before them, or without quickly passing the band-aid legislation President Obama proposed as members of Congress prepared to leave town on Friday, jobless Americans will lose extended unemployment payments; income taxes will increase for most households; some 26 million households will face an alternative minimum tax for the first time; the military will suffer significant budget cuts while the nation is at war; and the recession from which we are struggling so hard to recovery could be reignited.
There is ample precedent for presidents to reel in vacationing members of Congress. Presidents used this power 46 times prior to 1933 to call the Senate back to work, and 27 times to call both houses back to deal with economic crises and important legislative proposals. Since 1933, when the 20th Amendment required Congress to meet more often, Article 2/3 has been used less often.
Still, FDR called Congress back to town in 1933 to deal with the Great Depression by passing emergency banking and relief legislation . He called a special session again in October 1937 to establish minimum wages and maximum hours of work, and again in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and triggered World War II. President Truman called Congress back in 1947 and 1948 to deal with unfinished domestic legislation.
President Obama put it well as members of Congress headed for home.
"Just as our economy is really starting to recover and we're starting to see optimistic signs," he said, "...now is not the time not the time for more self-inflicted wounds - certainly not those coming from Washington."
Bring Congress back to work over Christmas. It would be welcome example of presidential leadership and a much-appreciated gift to the millions of American families who had hoped to spend the holiday with the assurance that the nation's economic recovery -- and their own personal economic recoveries -- would continue in the new year.
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