The lamest of lame ducks

Congressional lame-duck sessions are notoriously unproductive and this one is no exception.

The Democratic leadership came back after the election with three goals — a bailout for the auto industry, a second economic stimulus package and an extension of unemployment benefits.

Only the relatively uncontroversial granting of a three-month extension of the benefits passed as Congress was leaving town for Thanksgiving recess. Despite some White House grumbling, President Bush signed the measure as he was leaving for Peru.

The problem with lame duck sessions is that the lawmakers who are retiring or have lost their seats have no incentive to be accommodating while the victorious party has every incentive to wait for the new Congress to be sworn in.

The lawmakers deadlocked on an auto industry bailout, with Democrats generally wanting the money to come from one source; the Republicans generally from another, and neither of them happy about what seemed like a clear plan for a turnaround by the Big Three.

Congress is coming back after the Thanksgiving weekend — sort of a lame-lame duck session — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Big Three to come back with detailed plans for how they’d use a bailout. Basically, she said show us the plan, we’ll show you the money.

The economic stimulus package will have to wait for the new Congress.

That’s not to say nothing changed. There was a generational change but it was due to outside factors like the actuarial tables and the criminal courts.

After the Senate’s longest serving Republican, Ted Stevens, lost his bid for reelection, saving his colleagues from expelling him for his conviction on corruption charges. Stevens is 85.

Sen. Robert Byrd, 92, no longer up to the duties of running the powerful Appropriations committee, stepped aside as chairman. He will be replaced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, 84.

The House removed another long serving lawmaker, Rep. John Dingell, 82, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he had been either chairman or ranking minority member since 198l. He will be replaced by Rep. Henry Waxman.

Reporting on the change, The Washington Post enthused that Waxman’s "victory signaled the rise of a young, more environmentally conscious party." Waxman is 69.

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