A LAME DUCK session is a marvelous device for escaping political responsibility. Congress already seems to take it for granted that it will come back into session, after the election, for four or five weeks. As the congressional leaders explain it, the burdens of public service have been unusually heavy this year, and a crowded schedule requires a brief return to Washington in November to tie up a few loose ends.
What blather. Congress has, in fact, indulged in a flagrant example of institutional procrastination, engineered for the sole purpose of avoiding certain painful votes before Nov. 5. Most of those votes concern the budget and spending. Readers will doubtless have perceived long since that next year's budget will run a large deficit. No one disputes it. But Congress doesn't want to acknowledge it formally until after the election.
A lame duck session is dangerous. Some of the more influential committee chairmen will be closing their offices and their careers, not all of them voluntarily. When they no longer have anything to lose, a few of them may well be tempted to settle a few outstanding accounts before they go. Strange bills can be enacted by legislatures in which large numbers of members will never again have to face the voters. There's the further possibility, incidentally, that the lame duck Congress may find itself sending legislation to a lame duck president.
Of the 13 appropriations bills, only one has been passed. The others are being deferred out of solicitude for the presumed feelings of the voters. It seems likely that the second and binding budget resolution, along with the budget reconciliation bill, will be similarly postponed, for the same bad reason.
Other legislation, some of it of great importance, is also being pushed beyond the election. The bill establishing the Superfund to clean up chemical and oil wastes, which we address below, is only one of them. The Alaska lands bill is also being deferred until after the election. Both would be vulnerable to attack -- perhaps by means of the attachment of last-minute riders -- by people who have a few weeks' power unchecked by the thought of elections.
It is apparently already too late to avoid a lame duck session this year. But its true intention deserves to be recognized. It is a deliberate attempt by Congress to evade its accountability to the people for whom it works.