Editorial Analysis: Another lame duck

This election season has brought forth an amazingly close presidential election, as well as razor-thin majorities in Congress. As the new and returning members of the 107th Congress slowly close down their campaigns and prepare for the year ahead, the 106th Congress has yet to finish its business. The Senate adjourned last Wednesday and the House quickly followed on Friday. Reconvening this upcoming Monday, this lame-duck session is Congress’ tenth since the end of World War II and will focus on the many spending bills not agreed to last week.
The last lame-duck session was in 1998, when Congress was considering the impeachment of President Clinton. There was significant furor about that, as people questioned whether a Congress that was unaccountable to the public should be dealing with such an important issue. Although this session will not delve into such a solemn matter, their focus is no less important. A $1 minimum wage increase, military pensions, a reduction on taxes for long-distance phone calls, the easing of some immigration laws, and Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, nursing homes and health maintenance organizations are some of the issues they will face.
Part of the rational for holding a lame-duck session is that Congress and the President are at an impass, and the goodwill between the parties is at an all-time low. Lame-duck sessions have historically been unpredictable and filled with acrimony, and there is no reason to think that this session, considering the two parties’ hostility toward each other, will be any different. There is also a bit of strategy behind this move. Republicans had hoped they would come back in a stronger bargaining position, with a stronger hold on Congress and a president- elect to finish up the session’s work. This is a risky strategy to take, especially considering how close the elections have turned out.
Last week, Rep. David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said, “There is no redeeming social value in a lame-duck session. You can do damn near anything and get away with it.” This is very true. Although the fate of the Senate is still unknown — as votes in Washington state still must be counted — at least five Senators lost re-election battles, and others are leaving office. These members, including Sen. Rod Grams, will return to Congress no longer accountable to the voters, but instead to themselves and their agendas. That could lead to some interesting results, considering the funding bills they will be considering.
When Congress reconvenes, U.S. citizens will be watching without a real voice in the decisions being made. Although this short session will allow votes to be made on principle instead of pandering to special interests, lame-duck sessions should be avoided in general. Not only do they demonstrate Congress’ lack of efficiency and inability to work in a bipartisan manner, but also the potential for abuse is great. Future sessions of Congress should do everything in their power to finish their work in the time allotted. Our senators and representatives owe the American people at least that much.