Lame-Duck Lawmaking & the 20th Amendment
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Lame-Duck Lawmaking & the 20th Amendment


The 20th Amendment went three-fourths of the
way to solving what was perceived as a problem of lame-duck lawmaking. The criticism of lame-duck lawmaking is you’ve
got members who might’ve run for office, and had been defeated, yet they’re still
there voting when the session’s over. In hunting, you have hit the duck and you’ve
lamed it, it has collapsed down, but it’s still walking. So, here the members, those legislators who
had already lost but their term hadn’t ended, basically, they were free to do whatever they
want and not be responsible to any constituents. The way our government was originally set
up is that when you had an election, that Congress did not take office for 13 months
and instead, the prior Congress had an entire session. As soon as our government system turned from
what the Founders originally dreamed of– a nonpartisan system of representative government
to a partisan one within the first twelve years of our government– people recognized
the problem with the old way it worked, that an old Congress would serve for a whole another
term and so immediately there began to be proposals introduced virtually every Congress. The House continually refused to give enough
votes to get this out. If they have a Lame-Duck session, if they’ve
lost election, they can do what they want during that last year, which includes giving
votes in return for a future job. It empowered them. That’s why it took till 1932 when we had a
depression and we had a very unusual turnover and you ended up with people unexpectedly
taking the House of Representatives already committed on this issue. In the 20th Amendment, what happens is, sessions
begin in January and run for a year, and that means the second session of a Congress can
run after the election, but it can be at most, six weeks, seven weeks to finish up a term. The drafters of the 20th Amendment, they wanted
this short period because they looked back to things like the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment that ended slavery only
got passed because it was a Lame-Duck session and Lincoln could cut the compromises with
people who otherwise wouldn’t have signed it, to get them to pass it during the Lame-Duck
session that were able to get through when partisanship was lifted briefly. They wanted a small window, not for starting
things, but finishing up something that was already very much on the public table.

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