The Teary, Busy, Ugly Lame Duck Congress

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...The founding fathers originally required Congress to convene on the first Monday in December — a mandate that automatically created a lame-duck session. And because Congressional terms did not expire until March, lame-duck sessions had the potential to run for three months. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, dramatically shortened — but did not eliminate — the sessions by moving the swearing-in date for lawmakers to Jan. 3.

John Copeland Nagle, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has researched the amendment, argues that the current session, with its jam-packed legislative agenda, contradicts the authors’ intent. “We went through the extraordinary trouble of amending the Constitution to prevent this from happening,” Professor Nagle said.

And yet, lame-duck sessions have hardly disappeared. There have been 17, including the current one, since 1940. Congress has used them to grapple with great issues facing the nation, like war in Europe (1940, 1942 and 1944), the censure of Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002....

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