Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beware the lame duck Congress

Obamacare, financial reform and a near-trillion-dollar stimulus that will significantly transform the country are all products of these last couple of years lead by that great progressive and social engineer, President Barack Obama. He and his assistants (Pelosi and Reid) have spent his considerable political capital getting his agenda passed into law in spite of the fact that the substantial majority of the population of the United States was against it and working to try and prevent him. He had too, he simply had no choice because without the deal making, threats and blatant bribery that accompanied this effort, no sane society would have tolerated this much abuse.

He still has a few more transformational items left on his agenda (the terms “comprehensive immigration reform”, “Cap and Trade”, and VAT all come jumping into mind). The good news is, or should be, that with his political capital all spent, these items will have to wait until the next inauguration.

Except, of course, for one small constitutional loophole: a lame-duck Congress called back into session between the elections this November and the swearing-in of the 112th Congress next January.

The Democrat leadership is already considering this as a way to enact more liberal legislation -more than many of their members dare not even talk about, let alone enact, following an election in which they face a widespread backlash to the elements of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda already enacted.

Come Election Day in November (a date that cannot arrive too soon) the result, as most Democrats and Republicans currently expect, will be major Democratic losses. Of course, it is still possible for the Republicans to blow it. It would be well to remember that this massive spending spree the government has been on actually started under these Republicans.

One would assume that if the elections go as currently projected, the rest of Obama's agenda is dead. Except for the lame-duck session (a Congress populated by dozens of Democratic members who had lost reelection or are smart enough to retire). These people could then vote for anything -- including measures they shun today as their seats are threatened -- because they would have nothing to lose. They would be unemployed. Playing along with Obama might even brighten the prospects for, say, an ambassadorship to a sunny Caribbean nation.

The Wall Street Journal is already reporting that, Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Kent Conrad and Tom Harkin are looking forward to what they might get passed in a lame-duck session. Among the major items being considered are card check, budget-balancing through major tax hikes, and climate-change legislation involving heavy carbon taxes and regulation.

Card check, which effectively abolishes the secret ballot in the workplace, is the fondest wish of a union movement to which Obama is highly beholden. Major tax hikes, possibly including a value-added tax, will undoubtedly be included in the recommendations of the president's debt commission, which conveniently reports by December 1st. Also, carbon taxes would be the newest version of the cap-and-trade legislation that has repeatedly failed to pass the current Congress -- but enough dead men in a lame-duck session might switch and vote to put it over the top.

It's a target-rich environment.

The only thing holding the Democrats back would be shame, something in short supply in Washington these days. To pass major legislation so unpopular that Democrats had no chance of passing it in regular session, and to do it by taking advantage of the lame duck session, after major Democratic losses -- would be an egregious violation of our democratic traditions and the public trust.

Don’t count on shame to constrain the Democrats. It did not stop them from pushing through a health-care reform the public didn't want by means of "reconciliation" maneuvers and without a single Republican vote in either chamber -- something unprecedented in American history for a reform of such scope and magnitude.

How do we prevent a runaway lame duck Congress? We can't. But, one way might try by bringing up the issue up now -- applying the check-and-balance of the people's will before it disappears the morning after Election Day. Every current member should be publicly asked: "In the event you lose in November do you pledge to adhere to the will of the electorate and, in any lame-duck session of Congress, refuse to approve anything but the most routine legislation required to keep the government functioning?"

The Democrats could, of course, take the pledge today and then break it but that is a risk we are forced to take by having elected people of this quality to start with.

Update: This very question was posed to two Democrat Senators yesterday. They answered by smiling and changing the subject....

No comments: