Point/Counterpoint: Lame duck or not, Congress has much to get done this month
From the column: "With a potentially obstructionist House of Representatives controlled by many election deniers taking the reins of power in 2023, there is increased urgency to achieve as much as possible during the “lame duck,” the period after the election during which the outgoing Congress sometimes punts key decisions."
As this session of Congress winds down, it’s important to note its many achievements. The current Congress passed a bipartisan infrastructure package, bipartisan anti-gun violence reform, and a COVID-19 relief package. And it made historic investments in climate change and health care while holding the former president accountable by exposing the truth behind the Jan. 6 insurrection.
However, with a potentially obstructionist House of Representatives controlled by many election deniers taking the reins of power in 2023, there is increased urgency to achieve as much as possible during the “lame duck,” the period after the election during which the outgoing Congress sometimes punts key decisions.
The agenda during the current lame duck is likely to be packed, with Congress potentially working up until or through the winter holidays. As of this writing, a bill to codify marriage equality is expected to pass the Senate after a 62-37 procedural vote advanced the bill before Thanksgiving. It will then be sent back to the House of Representatives, which previously passed a similar version with strong bipartisan support.
Other likely or possible items that Congress may consider during the lame duck include the National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few items Congress passes yearly; an omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 16; additional aid for Ukraine; extending specific expiring tax provisions; a data privacy and/or an antitrust bill; raising the debt ceiling; confirming judicial vacancies; tackling DACA/“Dreamers” legislation; considering the January 6th Select Committee’s final report and possible action to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for failing to cooperate with a subpoena; and reforming the Electoral Count Act.
The last two items — the January 6th Select Committee’s final report and Electoral Count Act reform — are critically important for our freedoms and the health of our democracy. The January 6th Select Committee’s forthcoming report is expected to highlight the former president’s role in fomenting a deadly insurrection and provide recommendations to ensure that we have peaceful transfers of power between administrations.
The Electoral Count Act reform is consequential because it would modernize a law passed in 1887. Updating this antiquated law could help ensure peaceful transfers of power, and it is hoped to prevent another insurrection and attempted coup.
Especially now that the former president is running again and has continued to peddle the “big lie” about who won the 2020 election, it’s important to pass legislation that ensures the will of the voters will be respected and followed.
The Electoral Count Reform Act would accomplish several vital items: it would not only reinforce that the vice president’s role is ceremonial (to prevent the overturning of election results), it would also raise the threshold for members of Congress to object to a state’s electoral votes. Currently, it takes only one senator and one representative to object to a state’s vote to force a debate and vote. The Electoral Count Reform Act would raise this threshold to at least 20% of the House and the Senate to ensure that a fringe minority couldn’t hijack the process and ignore the will of voters. Additionally, the Electoral Count Reform Act would ensure expedited judicial review to guarantee that federal courts would quickly hear disputed cases.
Electoral Count Act reform legislation passed in the House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote on Sept. 21, and a slightly different version was approved by the Senate Rules Committee in a near-unanimous 14-1 vote on Sept. 27. Given that the effort to reform the Electoral Count Act has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, it may be attached to other “must-pass” legislation, such as the NDAA or the omnibus spending bill.
As important as Electoral Count Act reform is, it’s no substitute for comprehensive freedom to vote and anti-corruption legislation. After the Senate came within two votes of passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act earlier this year, it’ll take a bit longer to pass national voting standards. Although it won’t be on the agenda during this lame duck, Common Cause and our allies won’t rest until all Americans can have their voices heard and votes counted. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and our 1.5 million members are in this good fight for the long haul until all voters have a full voice in our government and in our lives.
Aaron Scherb is the senior director of legislative affairs for Common Cause (commoncause.org), a nonpartisan citizen watchdog and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.