Democrats are in a mad scramble to push through unpopular legislation before the clock strikes midnight on the 117th Congress.
The lame-duck session is the period between November’s congressional elections and the convening of the new 118th Congress on Jan. 3.
With some Republican help, Democrats in the Senate passed the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and orders the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.
But that’s not all.
The legislation has significant implications for religious freedom. It awaits passage in the House, where Democrats still have a slim majority until the new session. Republicans will hold a similarly narrow majority in the House next year.
Jamming through controversial legislation through Congress during a lame-duck session is a troubling practice to begin with. It’s becoming increasingly common to bring up more hotly contested legislation that didn’t have a chance of passing when vulnerable legislators had to face an election—and the voters.
Democrats are so concerned with “democracy” that they are scrambling to head off the results of last month’s elections, it seems. As is often the case, the Left cares little about the proper functioning of government when its priorities are at stake.
The Washington Post editorial board called on Democrats in Congress to make this lame-duck session a “mighty one.” Imagine how The Post would describe the situation if it were Republicans seeking to push a conservative agenda through.
In addition to “the Respect for Marriage Act,” here are four more of the most controversial pieces of legislation being considered by the current lame-duck Congress:
‘Assault Weapons’ Ban
On Thanksgiving, President Joe Biden said that he wanted Congress to pass an “assault weapons” ban during the lame-duck session.
“The idea we still allow semiautomatic weapons to be purchased is sick,” Biden said at a Thanksgiving Day press event in Nantucket, Mass. “Just sick. It has no socially redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single, solitary rationale for it, except profit for the gun manufacturers.”
He then said that he would try to “get rid of assault weapons.”
What exactly Biden means there is a bit hard to decipher. If the aim is truly to ban “semiautomatic” weapons, that would include many rifles and handguns. As Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., noted on Twitter, semiautomatic weapons comprise about half of all gun sales in the U.S.
There are many, many reasons to have semiautomatic weapons. Not that Biden or his fellow Democrats want to acknowledge that.
Despite Biden’s call for an “assault weapons” ban, it seems top Democrats in the Senate aren’t sure they have the votes to pass the legislation. The House of Representatives, controlled for a few more weeks by Democrats, passed gun control legislation in July, but the bill stalled in the Senate.
“I’m glad that President Biden is going to be pushing us to take a vote on an assault weapons ban,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on CNN. “The House has already passed it. It’s sitting in front of the Senate. Does it have 60 votes in the Senate right now? Probably not, but let’s see if we can try to get that number as close to 60 as possible.”
Even if Democrats in the Senate all vote in favor of the legislation, they would still need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a certain GOP filibuster.
Electoral Count Act
Democrats are looking to change the Electoral Count Act. This 1887 law laid out the procedure for counting Electoral College votes following a presidential election. It became a hotly contested issue following the 2020 presidential vote.
The law was the result of the 1876 presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, in which four states sent Congress competing sets of Electoral College votes.
Here’s how my colleague Fred Lucas described the Electoral College Act, which was meant to clarify the process:
To give Congress a means for settling the matter, the 1887 law required a joint session of Congress to count the Electoral College votes from each state and stipulated that the vice president, as presiding officer, would certify the results.
However, if an objection to the count is declared in writing by a House member and signed by at least one senator, the joint session would temporarily adjourn, and both the House and the Senate would be required to debate the objection for two hours. The chambers would vote on the lawmakers’ objection before reconvening in the joint session.
There have been bipartisan talks to remove that power from Congress. Some Democrats, however, want to see more widespread changes to the U.S. voting system to effectively federalize the process.
“The bare minimum, absolutely; but we need to go further than that,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said of reforming the Electoral Count Act. “We need to look at the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
The John R. Lewis Advancement Act would, among other things, increase federal veto power over state election laws through the Justice Department.
Omnibus Spending Bill
The Biden administration is looking to drastically increase federal spending through a massive omnibus bill during the lame-duck period. The administration asked for more than $47 billion to be spent on aid to Ukraine, COVID-19, and other projects.
As Matthew Dickerson, federal budget expert at The Heritage Foundation, explained in The Daily Signal, that level of spending in the lame-duck period is irresponsible at a time when the U.S. economy is experiencing the highest inflation rate in decades. (The Daily Signal is the media outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“This supplemental spending request for Ukraine aid and COVID-19 funding is more than an entire year’s worth of regular appropriations for the departments of Agriculture and Interior combined,” he wrote.
Dickerson wrote that the Ukraine spending—which already exceeds the spending on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this year—deserves a thorough debate and examination by the new Congress.
Passing such a major piece of spending legislation in a lame-duck session preceding a shift in partisan control of the House in January would be an unprecedented move, according to Eric Teetsel, Heritage’s vice president of government relations.
“Since 1994, control of the House has changed hands in four midterm election cycles (1994, 2006, 2010, and 2018). Never before has the outgoing House majority passed an omnibus appropriations bill during the lame-duck session following the election,” he wrote.
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
Congressional Democrats are seeking to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children.
DACA was originally enacted in 2012 under President Barack Obama by executive fiat—the “pen and phone” presidency at work. It was struck down by a federal judge in 2021 and could be blocked by the Supreme Court, too. Democrats are now back to pursuing a more traditional path of passing a bill through Congress. (You know, that quaint process once described in “Schoolhouse Rock!”)
At a Nov. 16 event on Capitol Hill with a group of Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for passing an amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
“I call on my Republican colleagues to join Democrats and help us protect our Dreamers,” Schumer said. “It is cruel and inhumane to keep millions in limbo. Senate Republicans need to work with us on this widely supported policy so we can reach an agreement that will protect families and strengthen our economy.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and House Judiciary Committee chairman, has also been working on DACA legislation.
Here’s how Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, described the Nadler initiative to double down on DACA:
Nadler’s plan is not only to codify DACA, which has about 600,000 enrollees, but also to extend that amnesty to an estimated 4.4 million illegal aliens. In other words, what is being sold as a small fix would actually become the largest amnesty in history—far exceeding the number of people who were legalized as a result of legislation passed in 1986.
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