On November 2, millions of Americans will head to the polls to either endorse or put a stop to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda. Should the Democrats suffer a defeat, as many polls suggest could happen, the expectation is that the governing philosophy that brought America the stimulus and health-care overhaul will no longer determine policy in Washington for at least the next two years. But is this a safe assumption?
America, meet the lame-duck session of Congress. In the wake of the November election, the Democratic majorities of 2008 will be frozen in place until a new Congress is sworn in at the beginning of 2011. It appears likely that scores of defeated Democrats will head back to Washington to serve out their terms with nothing to lose. And with President Obama’s promises of tax increases, cap-and-trade, card check, and immigration reform left unfulfilled, what’s to stop Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid from using the lame-duck session to pass the remaining parts of their agenda that their so-called moderates are currently too jittery to support?
Etiquette, say the liberal pundits. Congress wouldn’t dare defy protocol and flout the will of the people to pass controversial legislation at such a time. It would be too transparent and would conflict with the Democrats’ pledge to clean up the process in Washington.
If these kinds of assurances sound familiar, it’s because they are. The very same arguments were made about the health-care overhaul after Sen. Scott Brown scored a major victory in Massachusetts last January, depriving Democrats of the 60-vote supermajority historically needed to pass a sweeping new entitlement. Yet no sooner had Brown arrived Washington than President Obama and congressional Democrats moved in earnest to do the unthinkable, passing the bill under “budget reconciliation” rules that only required 50 votes in the Senate.
It’s also not as if Democrats are swearing off efforts to seize the lame-duck opportunity. Speaking coyly about rejuvenating his stalled bill to regulate greenhouse gases, Sen. John Kerry said on Tuesday, “We will continue to try over the next few weeks, but if it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling that they can take a risk or do something.”
The polling group Resurgent Republic recently found that over two-thirds voters in the dozen states with “toss-up” Senate races oppose passing major legislation in a lame-duck session of Congress. The study is particularly relevant because defeated incumbents from these same states, in addition to vulnerable House Democrats spanning the entire country, hold the key to passing key legislation in the direct aftermath of November 2.
The taxes and restrictions Congress has been debating on carbon would raise the price of energy and consumer goods for all Americans during tough economic times. Card check would have a chilling effect on small businesses and further stunt private-sector job creation. These are the kinds of policies that lawmakers must be held accountable for. That’s why every incumbent in Congress should have to sign a pledge today assuring voters that they will not use the lame-duck session to pass any major legislation.
The other option is to assume that there are bounds Speaker Pelosi is not willing to cross to pass her agenda. But given this Congress’s record, it would be a mistake to leave anything to chance.
– Rep. Eric Cantor is the House Republican whip.