Lame ducks? Blame the Constitution.

Congress is back in town this week, and a new crop of Representives is on Capitol Hill. If you follow politics, or live in Washington, DC (and therefore hear about politics every time you turn on the news), you know that the end of 2010 meant ducks. Lame ones.

(ARC 1693335)

This happens when Congress has to reconvene after the November elections. Not every member has been reelected, but they have to return and finish the business at hand. As you can imagine, this does not bring out the best in people who are packing up and looking for new jobs.

How did these lame ducks get hatched? Blame the Constitution.

A member of the House of Representatives serves a two-year term that starts January 3rd in an odd-numbered year (2007, 2009, 2011).

But regular sessions of Congress begin on January 3rd in even number years (2006, 2008, 2010).

So when a current Congress meets between Election Day in November during an even year (like 2010) and the January start date of the new Congress (2011), there are now members who did not win reelection and will not return for the upcoming odd year (2011). These members create  a “lame duck” Congress.

In the cartoon above, lame and injured ducks (representing Democrats who lost in the 1914 election) hobble to the White House looking for jobs in President Woodrow Wilson’s administration. It was drawn by Clifford Berryman, whose political doodles brought us the Teddy Bear.

If the majority power has shifted to the other party, then a lame duck session can become complicated as the party in power attempts to pass or block bills before the end of the year.

The the 111th Congress, however, did pass a number of bills during its lame duck session in December 2010, finally adjourning on December 22.

History repeats itself, and Berryman might have recognized another recent political situation as very familiar! In this cartoon, Uncle Sam asks the House and Senate when they will adjourn so members could return home to campaign.

The second session of the 62nd Congress began on December 4, 1911, and as the 1912 election neared, there was no end in sight. Congress remained in session for another month after this cartoon was published.

Conductor Uncle Sam wants you to get off the train! (ARC )
Conductor Uncle Sam wants you to get off the train! (ARC 1693456)

2 thoughts on “Lame ducks? Blame the Constitution.

  1. “If the majority power has shifted to the other party (as it did for the Democrats in the cartoon above). . . ” This statement is not accurate. Democrats kept control of both houses after the 1914 elections. The Dems lost seats in 1914, but not enough to lose control of the HR; Dems actually gained seats in the Senate.

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