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Department of "Huh?!": Done-Something Congress Edition

Stephen Bainbridge:

The "Done Something" Congress - The Democrats are celebrating the accomplishments of the current lame duck sessiopn of Congress. It's a sad commentary on American politics that major policy changes are most easily made post-election by relying on the unaccountable votes of a bunch of retired and fired legislators. It certainly makes a mockery of the idea that elections are a mechanism of accountability. It's time to revisit the 20th Amendment to slash the time between the election and the start of a new Congress and more generally ban lame duck sessions.

What is he talking about?

I think he is talking about four bills that the Congress passed in December: START, DADT, 911-Responders'-Health, and the big tax stimulus. But I am not sure.

Why not?

Because none of them fits his claim that they were passed by "the unaccountable votes of a bunch of retired and fired legislators."

They don't?

No. 911-Responders'-Health had such broad approval that it was passed on a voice vote--those opposed to it did not want to go on record as doing so, or put those in favor on record as supporting it. The big tax stimulus--which I do not like, as another step on the road to budget ruin--passed 81-19. START passed with the Republican votes of newly-elected Senator Murkowski, continuing Senator Snowe, continuing Senator Lugar, continuing Senator Johanns, newly-reelected Senator Isakson, continuing Senator Corker, continuing Senator Collins, continuing Senator Cochrane, newly-elected Senator Brown, continuing Senator Alexander, retiring Senator Gregg, and retiring Senator Voinovich. And DADT passed with the votes of Republican senators Brown (newly elected), Burr (newly reelected), Collins (continuing), Corker (continuing), Ensign (continuing), Kirk (newly elected), Murkowski (newly elected), Snowe (continuing), and Voinovich (retiring). None of those four patterns are patterns in which the decisive votes are cast by senators whom constituents have rejected spitting in the voters' eyes.

But then why were all these big bills passed after the election, during the lame duck session?

Because Mitch McConnell asked all Republican senators to please block everything before the election, so that Obama and the Democrats could not claim to have any legislative victories.

After the election--well, it is two years to the next election, so there is no serious objection to actually doing some legislating.

So you are saying that DADT, 911-Responders'-Health, START, and the tax stimulus would have passed well before the election were it not for the Republican senators' willingness to play political hardball?

Yep. That's not the case for the tax stimulus--it could not have passed before the election because the Democrats were holding out for a better deal. But for the other three, certainly.

So they are not bills where the decisive votes were cast by an unaccountable bunch of retired and fired legislators?


So it does not make a mockery of the idea that elections are a mechanism of accountability?


So why does Professor Bainbridge claim what he claims?

I genuinely don't know. Those of his UCLA colleagues that I have talked to are puzzled as well.