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Not-So-Lame Duck Congress Bucks Historical Trend

Congress stayed in session until the last minute to pass outstanding legislation before Democrats lose seats this January.

President Obama, who delayed his Hawaii vacation until after the lame duck session of Congress concluded Wednesday night, said he was "persistent" during the traditionally sleepy post-election season to get key legislation passed before Democrats lose their majority in January.

Two former lawmakers say they were surprised by how much legislation was passed after November 15.

Former Texas Democratic Congressman Martin Frost says, "I was in Congress for 26 years and we had lame ducks of varying lengths. Generally lame ducks are not very productive."

Former Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis agrees. He said, "Most lame ducks end up being exactly that -- lame ducks; they kind of limp out of town. A punt and everybody goes home."

Although there have been exceptions, including the House's impeachment of President Clinton in December 1998.

There were no lame duck sessions between 1954 to 1970 and 1982 to1994. In those years, if Congress did convene after an election, it usually was for a specific purpose like passing a spending bill. But there have been seven lame ducks in a row since 1998. Prior to that, the record for consecutive lame duck sessions was three. That was during World War II.

Among the legislation passed this time -- a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment benefits; a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; legislation on child nutrition; and a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Why the big push? Democrats say it was a numbers game. "This was the best time for Democrats to maximize what they could do while they still had the votes," said Frost.

Republicans take over the House and close the gap in the Senate when the new session of Congress convenes January 5, 2011.

Because this type of lame duck session is so unusual, Capitol Hill watchers aren't sure what voters will think.

Bob Cusack with The Hill newspaper says, "It's going to be interesting to see, when members go back home, what kind of reaction they get both on the left and on the right, and I think that's going to factor into how Congressional leaders lead going into the new Congress."

Davis says victories in this town are often "short-lived." The president, he says, still faces a troubled economy, a war in Afghanistan, and an expected budget battle with Republicans.

Molly Henneberg joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2002 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Washington bureau.

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