But the lack of time won’t be the only, or perhaps even the most important, logistical problem. As anyone who has ever been through a lame-duck session knows, rounding up votes almost always is far more difficult after an election than it is before. If past lame ducks are a guide, many of the Representatives and Senators who will not be returning to Congress next year will be more focused on getting a job, packing up their offices and moving their families than on what’s happening in their committees or being debated on the floor. At some point, the retiring and defeated Members will have to vacate their office suites so that the newly elected Members can move in, making it physically and psychologically difficult to focus on work. And, of course, the staff for the soon-to-be former Members, who do much of the substantive work, will also be actively looking for new jobs or moving and also won’t have an office to go to.
As it has in the past, this will create huge headaches for the Republican and Democratic leadership. Not only will the political imperatives have changed for Members who will not be returning next year, but the ability to discipline those who are leaving will be completely eliminated.
Add to that the strong possibility that some retiring and defeated Members may not vote at all, and it’s not hard to see why the close votes that have been typical of almost anything having to do with the budget the past few years may have to or should be avoided during the lame-duck session.
And then there’s the politics of the federal budget. Does anyone really think that the extreme partisanship and vitriol that has only grown since the 2010 elections will suddenly disappear or substantially subside on Nov. 7? Is it really possible that what is likely to be one of the most negative campaigns in U.S. history will make it easier to compromise after the elections are over? No matter what the election results, will either political party be willing to give away its ability to score points on the most contentious issues by agreeing to a compromise on spending and taxes, especially if it doesn’t include tax reform?
I have two predictions based on all of this. First, instead of a big budget deal, the most likely result by far is that stopgap, temporary fixes will be put in place for at least several months (and possibly a year) for all of the major spending and revenue decisions that are coming due. Second, although they obviously shouldn’t be, federal budget watchers will again express surprise and disappointment when this happens.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”