On November 4, voters fired the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, replacing it with a GOP majority that campaigned against Obamacare and big spending. But the Democrats who lost are still running the show. These lame ducks lack the moral authority to govern. They shouldn’t be allowed to do any more than the bare minimum to keep government operating until January, when the new Congress meets. Allowing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to ram through an omnibus spending bill for the coming year, or make other key decisions, would be like letting your ex-spouse keep using your checkbook. One of the first acts of the next Congress should be to outlaw lame duck sessions.
Lame duck sessions were unavoidable before jet planes. The framers of the U.S. Constitution provided 17 weeks for newly elected lawmakers to travel to take their seats on March 3. That was the 18th century.
In 1933, Americans ratified the 20th Amendment to eliminate lame duck sessions. Except in times of war, Congress didn’t meet after the November elections. But for the past two decades, lawmakers have weaseled around the amendment’s intent, returning after Election Day to deal with issues they avoided before Election Day.
That’s our situation now. The lame ducks are in charge, poised to act without fear of voter reprisal. That means poised to spend, spend, spend. The federal government will run out of money on December 11 unless Congress approves new funding to avoid a government shutdown. Reid will ask for an omnibus spending bill good until September 2015, gilded with a whopping $6.2 billion for Ebolacare, $5.6 billion for expanded warfare against ISIS, $3 billion for an international climate change fund, and other gargantuan requests.
Republicans should say no and offer instead to fund government at current levels for another two or three months. No longer. Allowing spendaholic Democrats to stay in charge of the nation’s cash register until next September would betray the very voters who just ousted them from power.
Giving lame duck Reid his omnibus bill would also diminish the new GOP Senate majority’s bargaining power to start dismantling Obamacare. Total repeal is not in the cards as long as Barack Obama is president, but GOP lawmakers could refuse to appropriate money to write more Obamacare regulations and might press Obama to go along with repealing the job-killing employer mandate in return for spending concessions.
Most important, saying no to the lame duck omnibus bill puts the next Congress in a better position to resist Obama’s dangerous attempts to govern with his pen and phone, evading Congress. Obama says that in the coming days he will announce bold changes to the nation’s immigration laws. House Speaker John Boehner asked Obama to wait for Congress to act. But Obama says Congress waited too long. No matter what your views on immigration, the president’s pretensions to be a one-man government are alarming.
Article 1 says all legislative powers are vested in Congress. It doesn’t say “unless Congress waits too long.” If Obama grabs more power than the Constitution allows, the new Congress’ best bargaining chip will be control over spending. It can refuse funds to implement Obama’s illegal immigration policies. James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, explained in Federalist No. 58 that withholding funds — not impeachment or lawsuits — would be the “most complete and effectual weapon” to stop a presidential power grab.
That’s why the GOP must not acquiesce to Reid’s parting request to fund the government until next September. Reid’s lame duck majority should do as little as possible and be the last in history.
When Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the presumptive Senate Majority Leader, takes charge in January 2015, he should introduce a bill to bar Congress from meeting between Election Day in November and the swearing in of newly elected members in January. That simple change will put an end to lame duck sessions and put voters where they belong: in charge from Election Day forward.
Betsy McCaughey Ph.D. is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.