“A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy”: Cruz Opposes Lame Duck Sessions Of Congress, But He Has Some Responsibility For Them
The Hill reports that Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is leading an effort to ensure that Congress does not convene for a “lame duck” session at the end of the year. According to the publication, Cruz and “right-leaning groups see huge dangers in having a session after the November elections, which they think could be used to move legislation backed by President Obama or even to confirm his Supreme Court nominee.” As a rationale for the push, a letter organized by the Conservative Action Project states, “By promising now that there will be no lame duck session of Congress … the Republican-led Congress can take an important first step in restoring the American people’s trust in their government.”
The lame duck session of Congress has become a Washington, D.C. tradition. It takes place during election years after the votes are cast in November. Often the sessions are used to wrap up business that Congress didn’t get to before leaving to campaign for reelection, but the relative political vacuum of that time period can also provide members of Congress with the cushion necessary to take difficult votes they otherwise wouldn’t be able to cast. For those reasons, lame duck sessions of Congress often see the passage of large, sometimes expensive, and many times controversial pieces of legislation. Per The Hill, Cruz and his cohort seem to be concerned this year about the passage of trade legislation, the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and passage of an omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government.
In some respects Cruz is right. Lame duck sessions of Congress are not the ideal way to legislate. The significant time constraints of these sessions mean that legislation is often rushed through without due time for consideration or amendment. Legislative packages that have been negotiated months ahead of time behind the scenes are presented to members of Congress as a fait accompli, leaving the legislators little choice but to vote for them or lose the opportunity for their consideration altogether. The situation is especially tenuous for omnibus spending bills, which contain the funding necessary to keep the federal government operating for the rest of fiscal year and are often considered “must pass” legislation (think the controversial 2014 “cromnibus” spending bill which narrowly averted a government shutdown). Other high profile examples have over the years included the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund environmental cleanup law and, in 2010, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Given a choice, I think we’d all prefer that Congress consider these bills through regular order, with ample time to understand what’s in them, debate the merits and discuss necessary changes. It’s certainly the way the rules of both the House and the Senate envision the legislative process would take place.
However, the reason there often isn’t regular order in Congress is because of people like Ted Cruz, which makes his current crusade kind of ironic. The obstinacy of the hard right and obstructionist tactics, like Cruz’s drive to shut down the government over health care policy in 2013, have made it increasingly difficult for Congress to either consider policy in a substantive way or find ways to compromise and move bills forward. Thus, the lame duck sessions and the political shield they provide have become necessary to pass some key pieces of legislation. And often, it is only because of the possibility of a lame duck session and the ability to resolve matters without a political glare that federal spending hasn’t been altogether halted and the government completely shut down.
Bringing the legislative process out into the light of day is a laudable goal, but really that’s not the goal of Cruz or his colleagues here – they want to close off an alternative to their obstruction. And even if they were sincere in their intentions, shutting down the lame duck session of Congress is not the way to achieve it. As things stand right now, that session will probably be necessary for Congress to accomplish anything at all this year. Cruz and his fellow conservatives talk order and transparency in Congress but if they were serious about that they could change the role they play in it. By showing a willingness to negotiate on policy rather than blocking everything they don’t agree with, they would significantly lessen the need for lame duck sessions. By far, that would be the best thing they could do to restore Americans’ trust in their government.
By: Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 15, 2015