Beware the lame duck. Strike that. Beware the wounded lame duck. Those departing congressional peeps are ready to place all of their soon-to-be former colleagues between a rock and a hard place.
Every year, it seems — and especially just following a turnover election — Congress hands the American people an unpalatable Christmas present. Using the hard-stop date of Dec. 25 and the desire of our elected officials to get home, lame-duck bills are often delayed, passed late at night, and stuffed full of surprises no one had time to read.
A headline from Politico a couple of weeks ago read “Republicans fear they’re squandering lame duck.” The article goes on to explain that Sen. Ted Cruz “implored his Republican colleagues” to “ram through a boatload of conservative priorities.” Items on a GOP wish list include “more tax cuts, a new trade deal, criminal justice reform, full funding of the border wall, a farm bill, protecting special counsel Robert Mueller and confirmation of a slew of nominees.”
Lest you think this is only a Republican thing, it’s not. It’s a lame duck, end-of-the-year thing. A couple of weeks ago, NBC noted that “One underappreciated component to Barack Obama’s successful 2012 re-election was the congressional productivity during the during lame-duck session after Democrats lost control of the U.S. House.” They then list the bills passed that December: the Bush tax cuts were extended in exchange for an extension of payroll tax cuts, Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Obama got his New START Treaty with Russia.
As mentioned above, on the table this year is the hefty farm bill. With a price tag approaching $1 trillion, the bill passed the Senate 87-13 on Tuesday, is expected to pass the House on Thursday and be on Trump’s desk by Friday. Included in the bill are subsidies for farmers who have been hurt by the tariff war. The subsidy recipients have been expanded to include cousins, nieces and nephews of farmers, up to $125,000 per person and according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who voted against the bill, the top 10 percent of farmers will receive more than 70 percent of the subsidies. This year’s farm bill also waives environment reviews for some forestry activities like clearing insect-infested or diseased trees, legalizes growing hemp, promises to eradicate feral hogs and begins funding rural broadband internet constructions.
Tax extenders are another example. According to Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, tax extenders are “temporary and narrowly targeted tax provisions” which should be looked at and debated on their individual merits. Instead, Congress has been allowing the tax extenders to expire, then retroactively extends them, which enables deceptive budgeting practices and creates economic uncertainty. A new tax proposal came out the end of November, but does not take a hard look at those extenders — in fact, it just extends most of them.
Of course we can’t talk about wounded lame ducks without talking about Wisconsin and Michigan. Republican Gov. Scott Walker lost his re-election bid in November. Since then, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to shorten the amount of time residents can early vote, confirmed 82 new appointees and is ham-stringing the ability of the incoming Democratic governor to appoint his own people and even his ability to negotiate with the federal government.
Michigan also saw the defeat of a Republican governor and in response, the Legislature is trying to make it harder for incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitman to appoint key officials and to limit her ability to shut down a controversial oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, while also stripping the incoming secretary of state of the of the ability to enforce campaign finance law.
What these lame ducks have forgotten, it seems, is that someday the shoe will be on the other foot. In other words, what’s good for the duck is good for the drake.
In the meantime, watch out for bills passed in the next two weeks. They will likely be full of surprises.
Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune contributor, knows that reading ginormous bills two days before Christmas is virtually impossible — and that’s how sloppy legislation gets passed.