Five Facts About the Lame Duck and This Year’s Agenda
While post-election lame duck sessions are typically quiet affairs in Washington as members return home for the holidays, this year’s end-of-Congress period could be momentous. What’s on deck? Bills critical to bolstering our national defense, safeguarding our economy, and reforming our elections are on the agenda.
Here are five facts to know about the lame duck and this session’s agenda.
1. There are only 26 days until the new Congress.
By law, a new session of Congress begins on January 3rd every two years – meaning there’s typically no more than two months between Election Day in November and a new Congress. This means there’s a significant time crunch for legislators trying to get work done during the lame duck.
2. Legislation not passed during lame duck gets ‘reset’ in the new Congress.
Major pieces of legislation up for potential votes during this year’s lame duck session, such as the annual National Defense Authorization Act and the bipartisan Electoral Count Reform Act, are the products of months of committed effort by members and staff to move the bills through the legislative process which includes committee hearings, markups and votes.
But if a new Congress begins and these bills haven’t become law, these bills are effectively dead, and supporters will have to start from square one to try and pass them again.
3. Significant legislation has been passed during lame duck sessions before.
In 1974, Congress spent the weeks after the elections catching up on work delayed by the Watergate scandal, approving bills to reform trade policy, amend the Freedom of Information Act, and ensure the government remained funded.
And during the lame duck session of 2002, Congress passed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security in response to the September 11th attacks the year before.
4. The government will shut down on December 17 without Congress approving a new spending bill.
Congress must use this lame duck session to reach an agreement to continue funding the government’s operations if they’re to avoid yet another federal government shutdown on December 17. The last shutdown, which occurred four years ago during the last post-midterm lame duck session, was 35 days long, the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
Congress may opt to simply pass a short-term continuing resolution that temporarily funds the government for a few months, setting up an early partisan showdown in the new Congress next year.
5. A 62-year streak of passing a defense authorization bill is at risk.
Also on the agenda during this lame duck is a vote on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill authorizing Congress to fund our national defense. Members have disagreed over a number of provisions. Congress has passed a defense bill every year since 1960 and failing to do so during the lame duck would constitute a significant national security risk for the nation.