View Full Version : Whats "Lame Duck"

11-15-2006, 01:11 PM
"Lame Duck" is used to describe not only a President, but any public office-holder who will not be returning when his/her current term ends. They may not be returning because they are not seeking re-election, or they were defeated in an intervening

"The Post-Season Parade" by Clifford Berryman
First published in the Washington Evening Star, March 5, 1915 - U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives
election, or their office is term-limited, as in the case of the President. The expression is also applied to a Congress which reconvenes after an election. A lame duck Congress continues in session with Members known not to be returning still serving in it. The 106th Congress is set to return to sesson on November 14, 2000, a week after the election. The decisions they make prior to final adjournment will be made by a mix of returning Members, retiring Members, and those who were defeated in the November 7 election.

All of these outgoing office-holders continue to exercise the full authority of their positions, but their influence is considered crippled, or "lamed," by the fact that they will soon be relinquishing the reins of power.

The origins of the expression stem from the business world. In England in the late 1700's, it was used on the London stock exchange to describe brokers who could not pay off their debts. By the early 1800's, it was applied to businessmen still conducting business, but known to be going bankrupt. By 1830, the term began appearing in America, in the political context we understand today. The point of transition from the context of the business world to the political world is unclear.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scandals involving lame duck Members of Congress and accusations of bribery in exchange for votes or favors became commonplace. Congressional lame ducks were no longer accountable to their constituents but still casting votes if lame duck sessions were held. Knowing they would not be facing the electorate again, they could vote with an eye more on their own personal gain than on the needs of their constituents.

Reform efforts led to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, known as the "Lame-Duck Amendment," which was ratified in 1933. It moved the date on which a new Congress regularly convened from the first Monday in December—thirteen months from the previous November elections—to January 3, just two months after the elections. To make the starting date of a new Congress and a new member's term coincide, the Amendment also changed the beginning of a member's term from March 4 to January 3.

In the early years of our nation, a longer interval between the date of an election and the commencement of the term of office made sense. Without modern means of communication and transportation, it took time for the results of elections to be known and for public officials to make the sometimes long trek to the capital city from remote areas to prepare for the convening of the legislative session.

The 20th Amendment shortened the period of time lame duck Members of Congress could stay in office after an election had been held. As a result, proponents of the reform hoped this would put an end to the "lame duck" syndrome that had become synonymous with scandal.