What would you do if you were the owner of a grommet factory and you found evidence that there was need to replace your cashier?
How would you proceed if you decided that your plant manager wasn't doing his job properly?
Would you inform the cashier on Nov. 4 that you had lost confidence in him but that he would not be fired until Jan. 3 of the following year? Or would you give him serverance pay in lieu of notice and ask him to remove his personal effects from his office at once? Would you tell the plant manager that he would be fired next year but meanwhile would continue to run the factory for 76 days until Jan. 20?
I think the answers are obvious. Once a decision is made to replace people who make policy or hold positions of trust, it is better to make the change quickly. Leaving a lame duck in office for several months can cause serious problems.
When this country was founded, news and people traveled slowly. It took a long time to count ballots and certify election returns. It took a long time to ride from Georgia to New York on horseback.
As travel and communications improved, however, it became increasingly clear that it was incongruous to convene a new Congress on Jan. 3 although a new president was not inaugurated until March 4.
A country that has voted for a change in management wants action, not a delay of many weeks or months. So the 20th Amendment was adopted in an attempt to improve the situation. It moved Inauguration Day to Jan. 20, but that still left a gap of 76 days between Nov. 4 and Jan. 20. And the new amendment did nothing about the 59-day gap between Nov. 4 and the convening of a new Congress on Jan. 3.
On our front page for Monday of this week, Washington Post staff writer Ward Sinclair reminded us of some of the consequences of this kind of timetable. Under a headline that said, "Lame Ducks Rush to Catch Their Last Gravy Train," he told us about the special-interest legislation that gets rammed through a lame-duck session of Congress.
This kind of hanky-panky has been going on for many decades. It isn't as visible as the travel junkets taken by departing lame ducks, but it can cost a lot more. A whole lot more.
Weary taxpayers readily understand -- and are irate about -- the thousands of dollars they pay for a free vacation in Europe taken by a lame-duck congressman. Taxpayers are far less likely to understand or even know aboiut the special-interest legislation that is quietly slipped through in the closing weeks of a lame-duck session of Congress. These bills cost taxpayers billions.
I think the time has come to review our practice of telling presidents and members of Congress on Election Day that they've been fired -- and then for months thereafter permitting them to remain in charge of policy and the expenditure of billions of dollars. If a government can begin its fiscal year on an arbitrary date like Oct. 1, it can also arbitrarily begin and end federal terms of office on that date or on any other. And it can schedule national elections for a fortnight before, thereby bringing a mercifully quick finish to the suffering of lame ducks wounded by the voters.
Congressmen will not take kindly to suggestions for reducing the interval between Election Day and the implementation of the voters' mandate. That's in the nation's interest, but not in their own interest. So we'll hear lots of reasons why the lame-duck interval cannot be reduced.
I heard the same reasons when it was proposed to move Inauguration Day from March 4 to Jan. 20. That couldn't be done, either. But it was.
We could make another move toward modernizing our creaky procedures if the un lame ducks in Congress did their duty. After all, most incumbents are reelected, and those who continue in office are aware that it pays to be responsive to the needs of constituents.
Think of how much better off we'd be if our new president and new Congress were already at work on the nation's problems.Instead, although the country voted for a change, it must endure several more months of free rides on the gravy train by congressmen the voters fired weeks ago.
Once you tell the cashier you don't like the way he's been handling your money, it's not a good idea to continue to give him access to the vault.
Fly home, lame ducks -- and if you can't fly, waddle. Just go quickly.