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Time to put down the lame duck?

Mark Mardell | 14:37 UK time, Monday, 20 December 2010

lame_duck1.jpgCongress has certainly been busy. The lame duck is popping out eggs. A tax deal cobbled together. Pop. "Don't ask, don't tell" snuffed out. Pop. A new treaty with Russia - START looks at least possible, as does an early Christmas present for the kids of illegal immigrants, the Dream act.

Republicans don't like the lame duck flying so high. They are grumbling that the Democrats are trying to do too much, pushing through the undone bits and pieces that have long been high on their wish list. This resentment exists even though the Democrats have just lost an election and so their legitimacy. For, of course, the Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives when Congress returns in January.

Whatever you think of the merits of the individual items, you can see their point. It does look a little unseemly. Democrats are voting for new laws for America after the country has apparently rejected their programme, including perhaps some of the items they are getting behind with one last dying heave.

To those of us who are not Americans, it looks weird.

When an election is held in most countries, that is it. No coming back for a second bite. No humiliated groups hanging around the chambers of power diminished, defeated and embarrassed for the last few weeks. You finish up that session, face the electorate and come back - or not.

With a fixed-term Parliament, there is plenty of time to get through some last few laws - if you think the voters you are about to face might like them.

This part of the American system could have been designed with the very purpose of undermining the legitimacy of Congress to make it look a bit seedy. It confirms the picture of Washington as a bit tricksy and out of touch, deliberately ignoring the electorate. After all, that is why we have elections - to find out what people want, rather than relying on some self appointed authority to devise some Rousseau-like "will of the people".

I can see no good reason for the lame duck session. As far as I can see, it should be abolished. If you can think of any earthly good it does, please let me know.

So those who are moaning do, in fact, have a choice. Campaign for a change to a more rational system, while complaining that the Democrats are doing what an irrational system allows. But if you don't want to change the rules, play by them without whining.


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