A top House Democrat dismissed as a "manufactured...conspiracy theory" Republican fears that the majority will attempt to push major - and controversial - pieces of legislation through the Congress in a lame duck session this fall.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who serves in the Democratic leadership as an assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told Fox News in an interview Monday it was likely the House would reconvene after voters go to the polls on November 2. In this, Van Hollen went further than Pelosi herself, who last month responded to a reporter's question about the prospect of a lame duck session by quipping: "We're having a lame duck? Are you making an announcement here today?"
"The probability is that we'll have some lame duck session to do the regular business of the people," Van Hollen said. Veterans of Capitol Hill expect that Congress will have to reconvene in the weeks before Thanksgiving, if only to tackle major spending bills for Fiscal Year 2011.
GOP lawmakers have raised the specter in recent weeks of the Democrats using a lame duck session to advance measures that the majority either did not introduce - or did not have the votes to pass - during the regular session now approaching its end.
Among these red flag items arousing Republican fears are the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as "card check," which would make it easier to unionize in non-union workplaces; the climate change legislation known as "cap and trade"; and anything even remotely resembling a tax increase.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already outlined plans to convene two lame duck sessions in the upper chamber, one before Thanksgiving and another after the holiday. In addition to the spending bills, Reid has suggested he might seek to enact a new round of loans and tax breaks for small businesses. He has also spoken about trying to implement rapidly some of the recommendations put forward by the deficit-reduction commission that President Obama appointed, and whose findings are due to be submitted by December 1. The panel's recommendations could include a value added tax.
"They want to push it all until after the election," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto on July 30. "They want to push these -- the card check thing, the union thing, the tax hikes -- off until after the election, possibly the energy tax -- off until after the election....The American people are sick and tired of that kind of politics."
Price has introduced, to almost certain defeat or relegation to the legislative sidelines, a measure that would bind the Democrats to foregoing a lame duck session. He and other Republicans suggest such a session will embolden outgoing Democrats to cast votes they would not in regular session.
White House energy and environmental adviser Carol Browner suggested on one Sunday morning talk show that the administration could try to revive the stalled "cap and trade" legislation during a lame duck session.
"Someone who is not going to run again -- they have just lost their seat, or they have retired -- will not have consequences as far as the voters are concerned," said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa. "That's why they're lame ducks and that's why the session is named after that, because they're going to be able to be persuaded by the speaker, or by somebody in their caucus, to vote for things that they probably wouldn't vote for otherwise."
Such fears Van Hollen brushed aside as willful distortions by the Republicans. "What you have is this issue manufactured on the right to try and scare people, as if there's some secret plan to do big things in a lame duck session," the four-term Democrat said. "It's just not true. People are feeding the story, and the more stories people do on it, the more the conspiracy theory moves through the system. But it's a false thing. It's a made-up issue. There's no plan to do any kind of big, controversial legislation. But I guess there's some people that want a two-month, taxpayer-paid vacation. I mean, to say in advance that we're not going to do any kind of the people's business, even if we can find bi-partisan agreement on something, on the economy, on jobs?". One retiring Democrat told Fox News that the notion that an incumbent will cast votes during a lame duck session that he would not feel free to cast in regular session was overblown. "For all the criticism Congress gets, and some of it deserved, I've seen many members take very, very politically difficult votes based on principle," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Was., who is completing his sixth and final term in the House.
"Certainly people have asked me personally, they've said, ‘Can we have your vote? Since you're not running for office?' I think it's been pretty clear to the last person who's done a whipping operation on me that way, they discovered pretty quickly it was not a good strategy in my case....I found it personally offensive [and] they were relatively fortunate to get away only verbally scathed."