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Wikipedia: Lame duck (politics)
A lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and especially an official whose successor has already been elected.
The status can be due to
having lost a re-election bid
. choosing not to seek another term at the expiration of the current term
. a term limit which keeps the official from running for that particular office again
. the abolishment of the office, which must nonetheless be served out until the end of the official’s term.
Lame duck officials tend to have less political power, as other elected officials are less inclined to cooperate with them.
However, lame ducks are also in the peculiar position of not facing the consequences of their actions in a subsequent election, giving them greater freedom to issue unpopular decisions or appointments. Examples include last-minute midnight regulations issued by executive agencies of outgoing U.S. presidential administrations and executive orders issued by outgoing presidents. Such actions date back to the Judiciary Act of 1801 (“Midnight Judges Act”), in which Federalist President John Adams and the outgoing 6th Congress amended the Judiciary Act to create more federal judge seats for Adams to appoint and the Senate to confirm before the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated and the Democratic-Republican majority 7th Congress convened. In more recent history, U.S. President Bill Clinton was widely criticized for issuing 140 pardons and other acts of executive clemency on his last day in office, including two former close colleagues, donors, fellow Democratic members and his own half-brother.
Origins of the term
The phrase lame duck was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a broker who defaulted on his debts. The first known mention of the term in writing was made by Horace Walpole, in a letter of 1761 to Sir Horace Mann: “Do you know what a Bull and a Bear and Lame Duck are?” In the literal sense, it refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators.
It was transferred to politicians in the 19th century, the first recorded use being in the Congressional Globe (the official record of the United States Congress) of January 14, 1863: “In no event . . . could [the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.”
Wikipedia: Lame duck session (United States)
A “lame duck” session of Congress occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor’s term begins. The expression is now used not only for a special session called after a sine die adjournment, but also for any portion of a regular session that falls after an election. In current practice, any meeting of Congress after election day, but before the following January 3, is a lame duck session. Prior to 1933, when the 20th Amendment changed the dates of the congressional term, the last regular session of Congress was always a lame duck session.
A lame duck session can occur in several ways:
. In practice, Congress has usually provided for its existing session to resume after a recess spanning the election. (In 1954, only the Senate returned in this way, while the House adjourned sine die.)
. In 1940, 1942, and 2002, Congress continued meeting, sometimes in pro forma sessions every third day, until well after the election.
. Congress can reconvene after an election pursuant to contingent authority granted to the leadership in a recess or adjournment resolution (in 1998, the House alone followed this course).
Two other possibilities have not been realized:
. Congress could set a statutory date for a new session to convene after the election, then adjourn its existing session sine die.
. While Congress is in recess or sine die adjournment, the President could call it into extraordinary session at a date after the election.
Congress held a total of 15 lame duck sessions from 1940 through 2004. Recesses preceding lame duck sessions have usually begun by mid-October, and typically lasted between one and two months. Congress typically reconvened in mid-November and adjourned before Christmas, so that the lame duck session lasted about a month. Some recesses, however, have begun as early as August 7 or as late as November 3, and ended as early as November 8 or as late as December 31. Lame duck sessions have ended as early as November 22 and as late as January 3, and have extended over as few as one, and as many as 145, calendar days.
Some lame duck sessions have been held largely for pro forma reasons (e.g., 1948), on a standby basis (e.g., 1940, 1942), or to deal with a single specific matter (e.g., 1954, 1998, 1994). Some sessions, as well, have deferred major matters to the succeeding Congress (e.g., 1944, 1982, 2004), especially when a stronger majority for the same party was in prospect. Most, however, could be regarded as at least moderately productive. When the President has presented an extensive agenda to a lame duck session controlled by his own party, it has often approved many of his recommendations (e.g., 1950, 2002, 2004), but when he has done so under conditions of divided government, he has had less success, and has often vetoed measures (e.g., 1970, 1974, 1982). Additionally, a major task of most lame duck sessions in recent years has been to complete action on appropriations and the budget. In 1974, 1980, 1982, 2000, and 2004, this effort was at least somewhat successful, but in 1970 and 2002 a final resolution was largely left to the following Congress.
What makes a lame duck session
A “lame duck” session of Congress is one that takes place after the election for the next Congress has been held, but before the current Congress has reached the end of its constitutional term. Under contemporary conditions, any meeting of Congress that occurs between a congressional election in November and the following January 3 is a lame duck session. The significant characteristic of a lame duck session is that its participants are the sitting Members of the existing Congress, not those who will be entitled to sit in the new Congress.
Meaning of “lame duck”
The expression “lame duck” was originally applied in 18th century Britain to bankrupt businessmen, who were considered as “lame” in the sense that the impairment of their powers rendered them vulnerable, like a game bird injured by shot. By the 1830s, the usage had been extended to officeholders whose service already had a known termination date. In current American usage, for instance, a President is considered a “lame duck” not only if he has been defeated for re-election, or after his successor has been elected, but also whenever he cannot be, or is known not to be, a candidate for reelection.
Members of Congress in similar circumstances are also considered “lame ducks.” The expression may accordingly be applied to Members who are known not to be seeking re-election as well as to those who have been defeated. In particular, however, after an election of Congress, all the Members who did not gain reelection can be described as lame ducks until the term of the new Congress starts. When the previously sitting Congress, which includes these Members, meets in a post-election session, this session is called a lame duck session as well.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
lame duck: a disabled person or thing: spec. (Stock Exchange slang): one who cannot meet his financial engagements; a defaulter. Also, short, duck.
1761 H. WALPOLE Lett. H. Mann 28 Dec. (1843) I. 60 Do you know what a Bull, and a Bear, and a Lame Duck are?
1771 GARRICK Prol. to Foote’s Maid of B., Change-Alley bankrupts waddle out lame ducks!
1806-7 J. BERESFORD Miseries Hum. Life (1826) XII. xviii, Attending at the Stock-exchange on settling-day amidst the quack of Ducks, the bellowings of Bulls, and the growls of Bears.
1832 MACAULAY Mirabeau Misc. 1860 II. 95 Frauds of which a lame duck on the Stock exchange would be ashamed.
1889 C. D. WARNER Little Journ. xvii, Do you think I have time to attend to every poor duck?
lame duck, U.S. Politics, an office-holder who is not, or cannot be, re-elected; spec. (before 1933), a defeated member in the short session of Congress after a November election; also attrib.
1863 Congress. Globe 14 Jan. 307/1 In no event..could it [sc. the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.
1910 N.Y. Even. Post 8 Dec. 8 ‘Lame Duck Alley’..is the name they [sc. reporters] have given to a screened-off corridor in the White House offices, where statesmen who went down in the recent electoral combat may meet.
1922 N.Y. Times 6 Dec. 18/2 Senator Norris is all for the plan ‘to have the convening of Congress moved up to avoid lame-duck Congresses’.
1925 Independent (Boston, Mass.) 21 Feb. 213/1 The proposed Constitutional amendment..has been usually designated as the ‘lame-duck’ amendment.
1932 Times 14 Dec. 13/2 A ‘lame duck’ Administration was in power, and a ‘lame duck’ Congress still in being
New York City • Government/Law/Military/Religion /Health • Saturday, July 31, 2010 • Permalink