NATIONAL LAME DUCK DAY
On February 6 National Lame Duck Day recognizes the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution or the Lame Duck Amendment.
The term “lame duck” originated as a description of stockbrokers in 1700s England who could not pay off their debts. The name later carried over to those in business who, while known to be bankrupt, would continue to do business.
In politics a lame duck is a person currently holding a political office who has either:
- lost a re-election bid
- chosen not to seek another term
- been prevented from running for re-election due to a term limit
- holds a position that has been eliminated
Prior to the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution, there was for Congress a 13-month delay between election day and the day the newly elected officials took office. In the case of a lame duck, this was a 13 month notice his or her job was terminating crippling their influence. Hence the ‘lame’ or injured duck.
An awful lot of people are confused as to just what is meant by a lame duck Congress. It’s like where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let ’em out, but after you fired ’em, you let ’em stay long enough so they could burn your house down. – Will Rogers
The same applied to the president. The 20th Amendment changed the date the newly elected president took office from March 4th to January 20th.
During a lame duck session, members of Congress are no longer accountable to their constituents. It is possible for their focus to switch to more personal gain instead of acting on behalf of their constituents with an eye toward re-election.
The 20th Amendment shortened this period from 13 months to 2 months. While lame duck sessions still occur (20 such sessions have occurred since the amendment took effect in 1935), there is less time for sweeping legislation to be approved. Even so, lame duck Congresses have declared war, impeached a president, censured a senator and passed the Homeland Security Act among other actions.
It is also considered a time when the peaceful transition of power occurs. Preparations take place for the out-going president to leave office and the newly elected president to take over the role.