Dec 3, 2018

Three Ways to Make a Lame Duck Less Lame

As we enter the holiday season, Congress is far from jolly and bright as it rushes to finish its core duties—like fund government agencies and reauthorize essential programs—in a lame duck session before the new Congress begins in January. What’s a lame duck? It’s the period after the election of a new Congress has occurred but before the current Congress ends its term. It includes all members of the current 115th Congress, including those who lost their reelection bids and retiring members, who are referred to as lame ducks.

This lame duck has been heavily focused on appropriations bills which provide funding for federal agencies. For the first time in 21 years Congress passed five of the 12 appropriations bills by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1; however, it failed to enact the other seven during regular order. Right now, Congress is chaotically trying to pass the final seven spending bills that are needed to keep the government running. Congress faces the possibility for a partial government shutdown if these final seven bills aren’t approved; the original deadline for doing so was December 7, however, with the death of President George H.W. Bush and his funeral ceremonies in the Capitol this week, Congress must once again punt the deadline. If all 12 appropriations bills were completed by their original deadline of October 1, Congress would not have been forced to hectically fund the government in the final days of 2018.

That’s why it’s time to make lame ducks less lame by making Congress more efficient and effective. Here are three ways to fix this broken system:

  1. Biennial budget: One way to eliminate the logjammed budget process is by creating a budget for two-year cycles instead of annually. Not only would this improve the efficiency of the process by ending last-minute partisan battles that lead to government shutdowns, it would also allocate time for more thoughtful consideration of how government funds are spent.
  2. New legislative schedule: The House and Senate should implement a synchronized, five-day work week schedule, with three weeks in session followed by a one-week state and district work period. This reform would increase efficiency during Congress’s normal session by allowing both chambers to work together and reduce the pressure to complete things in a disorganized lame duck.
  3. Committee on the Organization of Congress: Most importantly, Congress needs a completely restored legislative process that enables it to make achieving real results the norm, not the exception. Creating a new committee to analyze Congress’s ability to fulfill its Constitutional duties and report meaningful recommendations that revitalize the institution ensuring it works better for the American people.

A Congress of Tomorrow—and an end to lame duck sessions that are genuinely lame and full of chaos—is on the horizon in the incoming 116th Congress. That’s why it’s crucial to email your elected officials and urge them to seize this window of opportunity to create a Congress that functions better for the American people.  In the spirit of America’s 41st President, George H.W. Bush, a unifying leader who transcended political divides to garner bipartisan respect and achievements across the aisle, it’s time to ensure that our leaders follow in similar footsteps.

Is Congress Working for You?