- - Tuesday, November 10, 2020

While the focus of the media is on Democrats celebrating a former Vice President Joe Biden victory, the status of President Donald J. Trump’s legal challenges to the election and breakthroughs in a coronavirus vaccine, a lame duck Congress looms in the near future.

Traditionally, the lame duck is a time when retiring members and those who were unsuccessful in their reelection campaigns are free to push for massive spending ideas and unpopular crony legislation without facing repercussions from voters.

Conservatives should vigilantly watch Congress closely to see what these lame duck members seek to pass in the waning days of the 116th Congress.

Reports indicate crony legislation that assists special interests might be very expensive for the taxpayer. While a coronavirus relief package for people is necessary, the danger is in what Congress attaches to the legislation which has nothing to do with the public health or economic impact of the virus.

The Washington Post reported on Nov. 8, “Congress faces a government shutdown deadline and crucial economic relief negotiations at a moment of extraordinary national uncertainty, with Trump refusing to concede the presidential election and with coronavirus cases spiking nationwide.” 

The Post points out that both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, “have both expressed the desire to pass new economic and health-care relief measures to address the surging coronavirus pandemic — something Congress has not been able to do since the spring.” The report also indicates that the Biden transition team is pushing to prefund some of the issues that Mr. Biden intends on implementing when he is inaugurated in January.

The danger of passing a new coronavirus relief plan before the election was both parties had loaded up the bill with partisan priorities which did not directly relate to the problems facing people during the pandemic. Now that the election is over, expect all those priorities to be combined and passed in a giant omnibus spending bill without much of a peep from those retiring members. These bills just tend to get bigger and bigger because politicians who are leaving Congress are paving the way for lobbying positions or corporate consulting gigs.

One piece of crony legislation which has escaped scrutiny is S.4613, the Contact Lens Modernization Act. This legislation is being pushed vigorously and by the powerful American Optometric Association during the lame duck session covertly. The legislation places roadblocks in between consumers and a varied competitive market of online and in-store sales of prescription contact lenses. The legislation makes it easy for optometrists who issue a prescription to not disclose that the consumer has options outside of their office to purchase lenses. Optometrists are one of the few occupations where they prescribe the products. Optometrists financially benefits from this conflict of interest at the expense of consumers.

A little history puts this controversy into perspective. Back in 2004, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act was enacted by Congress to establish a fair marketplace for consumers of lenses. This law required optometrists to automatically release prescriptions to patients, yet the optometrists lobby figured out ways around this law. 

In order to address optometrists’ refusal to release prescriptions, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a new contact lens rule in October 2020 which requires prescribers to gather a patient’s signature to verify he or she automatically received their prescription. In response, the AOA found a member of Congress, who is also an optometrist — Sen. John Boozman, Arizona Republican — to introduce legislation to overturn the rule and create additional obstacles for consumer choice.

While eyes are diverted by Mr. Trump’s continued fight over vote totals in swing states and a potential vaccine for the coronavirus, Congress will be loading up spending bills with more special interest legislation and legacy projects. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Transportation and Science may markup the contacts lens bill in the upcoming weeks and similar underhanded efforts will be made in the last hours of this Congress.

Conservatives need to keep a close eye on their elected officials during the lame duck session of Congress. The grassroots need to hold members accountable and keep the coronavirus relief package and the omnibus appropriations package clean of unnecessary and expensive provisions.

• Peter Mihalick is former legislative director and counsel to former Reps. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican, and Rodney Blum, Iowa Republican.

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