With the 2016 election finally over, you probably feel like you crawled the last 100 meters of a marathon that you looked forward to and then totally regret doing. But the race didn’t really end on Nov. 8. The most perverse, wasteful, and costly session of Congress started right after the election: the lame duck.
This year, you’ll feel like you crawled across the finish line and met with a punch in the face; Congress will have to vote on a massive spending bill to avoid a government shutdown by Dec. 9. Again.
While the lame-duck session will most certainly be bad this year, it won’t be unprecedented. Let’s take a look back at the most egregious things Congress has done in lame-duck sessions past.
1. Harding and vote buying
In 1922, President Warren Harding was accused of buying votes to pass the Ship Subsidy Bill. As the Heritage Foundation’s James Wallner and Paul Winfree noted in their recent study on lame-duck sessions, “Republicans who were defeated in their bid for re-election were more likely to vote for the [ship subsidy] legislation than those who were not.” The controversy over the bill prompted progressive, Republican Senator George Norris of Nebraska to propose a constitutional amendment to shorten the lame duck. A decade later, in 1933, the 20th Amendment was ratified, shortening the lame duck by three months.
2. The notorious DHS
In 2002, Congress created a massive new government agency — a Cabinet agency, no less — when it created the Department of Homeland Security, with the 9/11 attacks as the backdrop and justification. Paul Light, then-director of Governmental Studies at the Brookings Institution, noted that the creation of DHS was “the largest government reorganization since 1947[.]” The department had 240,000 employees as of 2015 and its 2016 budget was over $40 billion.
3. Auto bailouts
In 2008, the House of Representatives attempted to put taxpayers on the line for $14 billion to bail out the auto industry. The measure couldn’t pass the Republican Senate, so days before Christmas President George W. Bush unilaterally bailed out the auto industry by transferring over $17 billion from the TARP program (the Wall Street bailout) to the auto industry.
4. The story of Boehner and the reindeer farmer
Then there was that time a lame-duck former reindeer farmer changed his vote to help pass a massive $1 trillion spending bill: In 2014, House conservatives almost defeated a $1 trillion continuing resolution. When then-Speaker John Boehner realized the spending bill was going down, he convinced Michigan’s lame-duck Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (a former reindeer farmer by trade) to change his vote, along with then-Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman. The spending bill passed, and Bentivolio retreated back to Michigan. He has tried to reenter politics since then, albeit unsuccessfully.
5. 20 trillion (with a “T”)
Finally, we’ve had 20 lame-duck sessions since 1940. Congress has passed reckless appropriations bills and continuing resolutions in 12 of them. They are a big reason we have a nearly $20 trillion national debt. (For more from the author of “Here Are the 5 Most Egregious Things Congress Has Done in Lame-Duck Sessions” please click HERE)