Lame Duck Session Means Opportunities and Risks

Lame duck sessions of Congress that precede a change in party control have historically seen legislation enacted at a frenetic pace.  In 2006, Republicans lost the majority in November, but in the post-election period, managed to send 115 bills to the White House for President Bush’s signature. During the 111th Congress, policymakers sent 100 bills to President Obama during the lame duck just before the GOP assumed the majority.

The decision by the voters to turn control of the House of Representatives back to the Democrats this past election suggests that Republican House and Senate leaders will soon launch an expediated free-for-all five-week session where they attempt to pass as many legislative agenda items as possible before Democrats take over in January.

Another hallmark of the lame duck session is that in a rush to cement a high volume of laws before relinquishing control, closed-door negotiations replace the plodding, more transparent committee processes of regular order.

These dynamics present both significant opportunity and risks for organizations with interests pending before Congress.

On the one hand, a lame duck session provides an excellent opportunity for legislative movement on issues stuck in the gears of government. On the other, the volume of matters competing for attention far outpaces the finite time available to Congress which creates challenges for more obscure or complicated issues to gain attention.

The same is true regarding the opaque nature of the lame duck process. Where the absence of prolonged public scrutiny may be beneficial for some, the emphasis on backroom negotiations leaves others with fewer means to influence policy outcomes.

In this environment, a robust and engaged public affairs campaign is even more valuable. A media offensive can help increase the likelihood that it is addressed or drive backroom negotiations out into the open to create political pressures. Likewise, a rapidly deployed digital activism and grassroots operation can harness hometown voices to remind decisionmakers that even in the extraordinary circumstances of a lame duck session they remain accountable back home.

In short, the last 2018 activities of Congress will likely prove to be anything but lame. Organizations that understand the dynamics and execute comprehensive plans will see significant returns on their investments. Others who rely exclusively on more limited efforts may find the fate of their enterprises in their opponents’ hands.