What's Lurking After Election Day?
In most of America, when someone gets fired for poor performance, they are not allowed to stay on the job another two months. But Washington isn't like the rest of America, and being a member of Congress isn't like most other jobs.
On Tuesday, November 4, Americans will elect people to represent them in Washington. In the process, they will also un-elect some current members of Congress in whom, for whatever reason, they've lost confidence. Some others have already announced their retirement and do not even appear on a ballot.
Yet all of them—including those who are canned at the polls — will still return to Washington before year's end and exercise their legislative powers just as though they still represent the people who have rejected them. Welcome to the "lame duck" session — where all bets are off.
Losing (or retiring) can, unfortunately, be liberating. Congressional "lame ducks" know they will not face another election, which means they are no longer accountable to the voters back home. Is that really who we want overseeing the country's business – people who aren't accountable?
Of course, the world doesn't stop spinning because America is "in between" Congresses. The ones elected next month won't take office until January,and some truly urgent issues can't wait. Ensuring that our military has what it needs to beat ISIS and that appropriate steps are taken to control the Ebola threat are the types of issues that Congress must address — even if a lame duck Congress is all that's available.
But plenty more issues can and should wait. Politicians who couldn't find the time to deal with various pieces of legislation before the election, for fear their votes might hurt their re-election chances, shouldn't be taking up that legislation after the election.
Consider, for example, the shenanigans surrounding Internet taxation. In the late '90s, a few states decided it would be a great way to increase their revenues, but Congress stepped in to stop it. They've done so several times since then, but the current ban on Internet taxation will expire in December. If Congress doesn't pass the Internet Tax Freedom Act before then, states and localities will be free to tax your emailing and web-surfing.
So why hasn't Congress already handled this? Well, the House did vote earlier this year to extend the tax suspension/moratorium indefinitely. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., couldn't seem to find time to schedule a vote in the Senate. Now, the deadline draws ominously near. And since the ITFA enjoys wide bipartisanship support and the majority of Americans don't want Internet taxes, it seems like a perfectly fine issue for a lame duck Congress to take up.
EXCEPT…this is where the shenanigans begin. The looming deadline makes this appear to be "must pass" legislation. And that means lawmakers will strive to load up the ITFA with other legislation that would have a much tougher time getting through on its own — something like the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), for instance.
The bill's title appeals. But in reality, the MFA would create a new tax on thousands of individuals and small businesses that make a living selling their products and services online (think of artists on Etsy). MFA supporters have never been able to muster enough votes to pass it. Which is exactly why, in a lame duck session, they will try to attach it to the must-pass Internet Tax Freedom Act.
That shouldn't be allowed to happen. Legislation too unpopular to bring up shortly before an election should not be voted on after the election by lawmakers no longer accountable to their constituents. Many pending congressional decisions fit that category – from long-term spending bills to the UN Disabilities Treaty to confirmation hearings on the next Attorney General.
Yes, Congress has plenty of work to do, but the reason they have not done much to date is because they were worried voters might not like what they did. A lame duck Congress that includes lawmakers who no longer have to worry about that is a very dangerous thing.
- Genevieve Wood is a senior contributor to The Daily Signal at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in USA Today