- - Monday, December 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Congress returned from the Thanksgiving holiday stuffed with more than turkey to begin the lame-duck session of the 113th Congress. A lame-duck session is popular only with members who have been retired or fired, eager to inflict one last bruise on the body politic. They have only until next Friday, Dec. 12 — the likely final day of the 113th Congress — to put their marks there. It’s the last opportunity for the lame ducks, many more turkey than duck, to help their friends, hurt their enemies and pay back their supporters.

Lame-duck sessions haven’t always been used as opportunities to move important bills toward the president’s desk without proper consideration or culpability.

Hans von Spakovsky, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, observes that before the past two decades, with the exception of times when the United States was facing great adversity or engaged in a war, “lame-duck sessions were both rare and inconsequential.” Until recent times, neither the public nor Congress had an appetite for allowing important matters to be decided by retired or fired members who were eligible to vote but with no accountability to the people.

A lame-duck Congress, Will Rogers once observed, “is like where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let ‘em out, but after you fired ‘em, you let ‘em stay long enough to burn your house down.” Some of the policies considered by this lame-duck Congress would waste the people’s money, expand the welfare state, increase taxes and shower corporate welfare on the unworthy.

For example, Congress spends more on transportation funding than the Highway Trust Fund collects. Some congressmen appear eager to correct this deficit by raising federal gasoline and diesel taxes, rather than cut a federal transportation budget that is overripe for cutting. It would be outrageous to impose an unnecessary and unpopular tax on Americans that ultimately increases the price of every product shipped on the nation’s highways.

Others in Congress are eager to slip an Internet sales tax through in the waning moments of the session. Last year, liberals in the Senate adopted a bill called the “Marketplace Fairness Act.” Some members who support this act are itching to empower state and local governments to collect federal taxes. They should give it a rest. The Heritage Foundation calculates that such legislation “would mean new taxes on millions of Internet-based sales, and it would be a dangerous extension of the power of state tax collectors.”

Congress is further considering taking up a bill known as the “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act.” It’s as unattractive as the clunky title. The act would eliminate taking family assets into account for the application of a child eligible for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance. Wealthy families could thus become eligible for federal handouts. Eliminating asset tests from determining who receives federal welfare would expand the growing welfare state.

Finally, some congressmen are eager to reauthorize Brand USA, a federal corporate welfare program for the tourism industry. The public-private partnership created by Congress in 2010 to promote tourism is scheduled to expire next year. There’s no reason that Brand USA should continue, at least without a major overhaul. Reauthorizing the program as-is during the lame-duck session would continue to take money from taxpayers and distribute it to a $1.5 trillion industry that doesn’t need the welfare scheme.

In every case, Americans would be better served if this Congress, which has earned Harry S. Truman’s derisive tag as a “do-nothing” body, lived up to the insult and sat on its ample bottoms for the next week-and-a-half. Important decisions are the work of the new Congress when it gets to town in January. The outgoing Congress should demonstrate its gratitude for the largesse it has showered on itself by taking the next bus home.

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