07.24.2012 1

Lame duck a recipe for foul stew

By Robert Romano — As the 2012 election season kicks into full gear, the looming fiscal cliff ahead draws ever nearer. With current tax rates set to automatically increase at year’s end, the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling set to be reached once again, sequestration cuts taking effect in 2013, and no budget agreement in sight, the problem is as time goes on, Congress is less likely to do anything before Nov.

Which means most if not all of these decisions will be put off into the lame duck session after the elections. But will that produce the best outcome? Will that reflect the will of the American people?

The problems posed by a lame duck session have caught the attention of at least two Republican Senators in South Carolina, Lindsay Graham and Jim DeMint, who want House Speaker John Boehner to cancel the lame duck session.

“To avoid a wholly predictable, and fundamentally undemocratic scramble of thousand-page, trillion-dollar bills, drafted on the fly and passed unread this fall, we write to urge House passage — before the August recess — of a continuing resolution at fiscally responsible levels,” they wrote in their July 13 letter.

Their call was echoed by Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson, who believes, as currently constituted, this Congress will prove incapable of producing a good deal for the American people after the elections have occurred.

“The continuing resolution, taxes, and debt ceiling should all be extended, and the sequester cuts postponed, all through March 2013. This will give the American people the opportunity to debate these issues in the electoral context, and then afterward, an opportunity to breathe knowing that Obama and Congress will not do any more damage for the rest of the year,” Wilson said.

Certainly, in recent years, lame duck sessions have not produced much good. In 2010, it produced the tax deal, which extended tax rates for just two years, and in return Republicans had to give Democrats the payroll tax holiday that underfunded the Social Security by $230 billion, guaranteeing the program’s trust fund will be exhausted in 2033 instead of 2035 according to the program’s trustees.

At the time, the tax deal was justified as a temporary measure that would offer time for Congress to work out a permanent solution. Now, two years later, with Obama’s insistence that taxes increase, Congress has gotten nothing done, and there’s no reason to expect this particular session of that body will be able to with a looming deadline at year’s end.

Similarly, with a hard deadline, the debt ceiling debacle failed to get the nation’s fiscal house in order, as Congress created a Supercommitee to do all of the hard work. When it failed to produce anything, $62 billion of automatic sequester cuts were then set to go into effect in 2013 — perhaps the only good to come out of the whole fiasco.

Even so, the deal did not do nearly enough, as every other year this decade spending will increase as the budget increases to more than $6 trillion, and the national debt to more than $25 trillion, by 2022. No wonder the nation lost its triple-A credit rating immediately following the vote.

Which underscores the real point, which is that when given a deadline like the fiscal cliff, as ALG’s Wilson notes, the Congress as presently constituted has failed miserably. So, they shouldn’t even bother trying. But there is a chance the next Congress might get something good done.

Besides, after this election year, the American people are going to need a holiday, said Wilson, concluding, “The House needs to give the American people a much-needed break after the November elections, no matter how they turn out, and force Washington, D.C. to quit governing by crisis. Cancel any plans for a lame duck session, and give the country a break from the political wars.”

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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