The lame duck session of congress returns to work this week facing a plethora of unresolved issues. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires on December 11. The defense budget needs to be approved. Certain tax credits for wealthy individuals and businesses expire at years’ end. A host of presidential nominees have yet to be confirmed; including forty five still vacant ambassador posts and the president’s choice for attorney general. Immigration reform is yet unresolved. And then there is the president’s request for an additional $5 billion to send 1500 additional troops into the war with ISIS; a war congress has yet to approve.
You would think with all that on their plate congress would be anxious to start “being about the peoples’ business.”
Not so much!
The first word coming out of congress was that given the limited number of scheduled days in session between now and the end of the year (15) it was unlikely that they would be able to get much accomplished. And given their limited schedule they will too busy to consider confirming any of the president’s nominees. According to congressional leaders it would be inappropriate in any event to consider such weighty measures in a lame duck session. Better to wait until the newly elected congress is sworn in come January.
What we have here is simply more of the same obstructionist policies that Republicans have successfully practiced since 2010…the exact same obstructionist policies that they promised to stop during last weeks’ election. What’s really going on here is that Republicans don’t want to act on anything during the lame duck session. Better to wait until the next congress is sworn in where the newly elected Republican majority stands to gain a better result. Alleging that some of these matters are too important to be debated during a lame duck session is pure nonsense.
On October 10, 1973 Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President over allegations of tax fraud. Gerald Ford was appointed the new Vice President. When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 Ford was elevated to the presidency. His choice for Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed by a lame duck session of congress.
On December 19, 1998 a lame duck session of the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. That same lame duck session accepted the resignation of the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and later his replacement Speaker-Elect, Robert Livingston. Livingston’s surprise resignation paved the way for Dennis Hastert to assume the post. He was confirmed by that same lame duck congress. Hastert would go on to become the longest serving Speaker of the House in our country’s history; serving from 1999-2007.
President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, should be a slam dunk. She has been vetted by congress four times and confirmed by congress four times for previous posts. She was nominated by the president in part because she had already been deemed acceptable by congress. But because obstructing is still more important than governing, her nomination will remain unconfirmed until the new congress is sworn in.
The additional funding for the war on ISIS is another example of Washington nonsense.
Under the War Powers Act the president can authorize the use of military force if he believes that the country’s national security is threatened. However if congress fails to authorize the president’s unilateral action within 60 days the president has 30 days to cease the military operation and bring the troops home. Several members of congress have been openly critical about the president’s strategy against ISIS. But they have refused to go on the record with an up or down vote. The war against ISIS is costing the country $8 million/day. The president wants congress to authorize an additional $5 billion to send 1500 additional troops into the battle. The 90 day period has expired. The war is technically in violation of the constitution. Rather than terminate the military action the president wants to expand it. Yet congress does nothing. And now it appears that they will sit on their hands at least until the new congress takes office because it is “inappropriate for a lame duck session to weigh in on such important matters.”
Congress likes to criticize the president’s actions but the truth is they don’t want to get anywhere near and up or down vote on the issue. Political careers can be inexorably altered by a war vote. Better to sit back and let the president take the heat. It is far easier to criticize than to assume responsibility.
And then there is immigration reform.
The president has said that if congress fails to act on immigration reform by the end of the year he will use his executive authority to enact measures himself. Speaker Boehner has said that such action on the president’s part would “poison the well.” Senator McConnell said any attempt by the president to enact reforms would be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Several Republican lawmakers have been more blunt, stating publically that such executive action would warrant impeachment.
And so goes the first week of the lame duck congress.
How is that new “kumbaya” atmosphere of compromise working?