Columns, Opinion

RYAN: The Ethics of a Lame-Duck Congress

The U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. I would probably trade a couple limbs and my future firstborn to have been present in that room in Philadelphia. At the Constitutional Convention, some delegates were unhappy with the compromise-filled document. According to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, only 39 of the 55 participants actually signed the U.S. Constitution. Nearly 230 years later, we’re still arguing about this one (fairly important) piece of paper and the government it created.

One issue that is especially relevant this week is the lame-duck session of the U.S. Congress. I’d bore you with the origin of the phrase, but you’ve already had your teaspoon of American history for the week. In modern times, a lame-duck session occurs after an election when members of government who lost their elections still have the power to cast votes. So from Nov. 5 to the beginning of January, 16 members of Congress are sitting in seats that they’ve been voted out of. It’s an ethically grey area to say the least — one that not enough people are taking seriously.

If you’re not yet seeing the issue, think about it for a second. Their constituents voted these legislators out of office, most likely because said people felt that someone else would better represent them in Congress. In essence, the election results are saying, “Hey, Member of Congress, you have done a poor job representing me, so I’m voting for this other guy (or gal!).” Yet for the two months after that election, those members of Congress still represent the very people who voted them out of office.

This lame-duck session of Congress is especially important. Starting next year, both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will be a majority Republican. Congress will remain Republican-dominated through the end of U.S. President Barack Obama’s term. Because of this, Democrats are working on a number of issues that will take a backseat once Republicans gain full control of Congress.

Among other issues that Obama and the lame-duck Congress will face, immigration, the confirmation process of Loretta Lynch for U.S. attorney general and a potential government shutdown. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks for people who are out of a job come Jan. 3.

Most news outlets, including the Huffington Post, report that Obama will be using executive action to create immigration policy, specifically allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States without fear of deportation.

Shockingly, the Republicans in Congress aren’t too happy about this. On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) would consider adding this latest development to his list of grievances in his lawsuit against Obama. If only he could find a Washington, D.C. law firm willing to represent him.

In addition to the quixotic lawsuit, Republicans are also planning more conventional retaliations. Another Washington Post article from Sunday reveals that the more conservative arm of the Republican delegation wants to pass a short-term funding bill that will only keep the government open until early next year. This will replace the bill currently on the agenda that will continue funding the government through the end of 2015. This would give the GOP an additional bargaining chip at the beginning of the next session of Congress: either lay off executive action on immigration or watch the government shut down…again.

So obviously this next month will be an important one in Congress, but the question is, should it even exist? Those 16 members of Congress are going to be voting on critical issues, and these issues could change the shape of the political landscape at the beginning of the next session of Congress. It feels like the Democrats are trying to cram everything important into the next four weeks, so they can screw over the fairly elected Republican majority. And I’m saying this as a Democrat.

They won’t get very far, honestly. Republicans still control the House, so it’s not like they’ll be able to implement any radical changes. However, doesn’t it matter that a percentage of these representatives shouldn’t even be there? That while they’re voting on these issues, they’re also packing up their offices?

Lame-duck sessions are a murky area when it comes to government philosophy. While politicians are elected to serve from the beginning to the end of a specific term, there’s something unsettling and slightly unethical about those officials continuing to exert influence after the people have chosen somebody else. The people have spoken, and now 16 members of Congress should close their mouths. There are boxes to pack.

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