There are 47 days including yesterday, 16 November when Congress opened its
lame duck session and 3 January 2011 when the 112th Congress opens. Of those, three are holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day), seven are Sunday, and six plus New Years Day are Saturdays. Most Americans would say that excluding holidays and Sundays, there are 31 to 37 working days until the 111th Congress expires, depending on whether the work required is critical enough to work Saturday.
And yet the United States Congress plans to work somewhere between 13 and 15 days in its “lame duck” session. Lame indeed. This is a Congress that has failed to meet its most basic function, to fund the government for the next fiscal year. None – zero – of the dozen or so appropriations bills due by 1 October have been past. The National Defense Authorization bill to fund the Defense Department and the programs needed to support our troops in the field has not been passed. Nor has unemployment extension. And the Senate has not voted on the New Start agreement with Russia even though we have gone nearly a year without a verification regime, no data exchanges, no inspectors on the ground. In the face of such dereliction of duty, how can Congress in good conscience work less than half time to address these urgent issues?
To be fair, most of the blame is on the Senate. The House has passed the Defense Authorization bill and other key legislation. And the fault in the Senate lays with the cynical use of its outdated procedures which allows illegitimate delay and political extortion to get anything significant through.
So, what is to be done? President Obama should call a Special Session of Congress if Congress adjourns without addressing these issues, even if that session is between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Article II, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution gives the president power to convene Congress. This was not uncommon in the 19th century when Congress did not convene until March and did not meet all year. It was used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to deal with economic emergencies. “The “First 100 Days” of the New Deal was a special
President Harry S. Truman may be a more apt model. He called the opposition Republican Congress, which he aptly named the “Do Nothing 80th Congress”, into special session in October 1947 and July 1948 to pass badly needed domestic legislation. While the 111th Congress has passed landmark legislation, it has not passed essential legislation due to Republican Senate obstructionism. President Obama should call the special session to deal with this obstructionism,
Will Republicans complain of partisanship if they are called to work as hard as working class America? Sure. Will they claim that this will ruin chances for cooperation in the 112th Congress? Yes. But they are also likely to have a new respect and appreciation for a president who will use the full powers of the office on behalf of the American people. And perhaps the 112th Congress will work to ensure that its efforts are complete on time.