- - Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Our nation’s Founding Fathers broke precedent when they established a government meant to be accountable to its citizens. Terms of office for the House of Representatives, in particular, were meant to ensure that constituents were never more than 24 months away from the opportunity to throw an incumbent out of office. This, they calculated, would serve as an important reminder to Members of Congress to remember whose interests they served. To the Founders, the equation was simple: Accountability at the ballot box would ensure proper representation.

The Founders, then, clearly, would be horrified to see how modern Congresses have abused a Constitutional creation – the lame duck session – and turned it into a means to escape accountability.

Lame duck sessions take place during the weeks-long period of time after the November elections, before the inauguration of the new Congress elected in those elections.

Consequently, they allow departing Members of Congress to cast votes for which they will never be held accountable before their constituents, and they allow even remaining Members of Congress to cast a vote without having to worry about defending it before their voters for almost two full years, during which time memories will fade and other, more timely votes will distract attention. And that’s where the fun — or horror, depending on one’s point of view — begins.

In recent years, lame duck Congresses have considered the following legislative items deemed too difficult or controversial to pass before the elections, when constituents would have had an opportunity to respond to a legislator’s vote in favor by casting a vote against them and denying them an opportunity to serve further: The Obama administration’s attempt to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants via the DREAM Act; Ratification of the new START Treaty with Russia; the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” the Christmas 2008 multibillion-dollar auto bailout; and, yes, even congressional pay raises.

Recent history, then, shows that Washington’s political elites have gotten used to pushing consideration of controversial items to the very end of a congressional session, when the protection of the lame duck session gives congressional leaders dozens of unaccountable votes with which to work.

Already, supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the largest regional trade agreement ever considered — are plotting to take advantage of a lame duck session after the November elections to muscle to passage their agreement, which is opposed by the presidential nominees of not one, but both major parties, along with House and Senate Democrat leaders. In fact, they’re planning to muscle TPP through in a lame duck session precisely because the presidential nominees of the two major parties, along with House and Senate Democrat leaders, oppose it.

What’s an opponent of the current version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to do? Oppose its consideration during a lame duck session, of course — and by that, to be clear, I mean oppose the holding of a lame duck session where it could be considered.

For conservative opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that’s easy. And that’s not the only reason to oppose a lame duck session, either, because recent history shows that conservative policy goals take it on the chin during lame duck sessions. Conservatives struggling to control federal spending, in particular, have a good reason to oppose a lame duck session — because it’s lame duck sessions where several of the worst spending bills have been considered and passed.

Neither the House nor the Senate has succeeded in passing all 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government on an annual basis. Given that appropriations for the current fiscal year expire at the end of September, it is clear Congress will need to pass, before the Sept.r 30 deadline, some kind of massive spending bill to fund the government on a temporary basis, at least for a time.

The only real question is, for how long will that short-term Continuing Resolution last?

The big spenders will be pushing for a short-term Continuing Resolution, good only through the middle of December, in hopes that the congressional leadership will bring to the floor during a lame duck session an Omnibus spending bill that will last for the duration of the fiscal year. The deficit hawks, on the other hand, will push for a longer-term Continuing Resolution, good through the end of March 2017 or even later, arguing that a new president and a new Congress should make the longer-term spending decisions.

Thus, the first battle of the FY2017 spending wars will take place during the 17 legislative days in September when congressional leaders will decide how long their temporary spending bills will last. If a six-month Continuing Resolution is passed in September, there will be no need for a lame duck session at all; if, on the other hand, the Continuing Resolution passed in September funds the government only through the middle of December, a lame duck session will be a necessity.

Every now and then, serendipity provides an opportunity both to hew to the line laid down by the Founders and to do the right thing at the same time. The lesson for congressional leaders is clear: Do what the Founders wanted. Make sure your Members are accountable to their constituents. Don’t hold a lame duck session. Sign our petition to make sure they get our message.

Jenny Beth Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Tea Party Patriots

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