Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Power of a Lame Duck

We had an election yesterday, and, as you've no-doubt heard, many members of Congress lost their seats. Interestingly, they haven't yet lost their jobs. The newly elected members of Congress don't take their seats until January 3, 2011, and, because the exiting Congress was unable to finish some important matters on their agenda before leaving for campaign season, they will have to return after the election. This is commonly referred to as a lame duck session.

There is a lot of fear of the lame duck session, particularly of the lame duck members who lost their seats in the election, because they are thought to no longer be accountable. There is whispering that these members might pass bills that wouldn't have been debated during the campaign season or that won't get passed in the next Congress. This fear is especially rampant in years that a congressional house changes party, such as this year.

However, Norman Ornstein argues that many of these fears are unfounded. Besides, it’s perennially the incoming party that is fearful of a lame duck Congress…until it’s their turn. Most of the whispering is just hot air.

In fact, the lame duck session is incredibly important, not something to fear. Any bills that are still pending at the end of this session are considered dead and will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress and go through the whole process all over again—what a waste of time! The lame duck session will allow many of the pending issues one last chance to be debated before going to the graveyard.

An incredibly important piece of legislation that we hope this lame duck Congress will take up is the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 4808 and S. 3766), which would allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). As we've seen in the past few months, the funding for this important area of investigation is volatile, with a single judge able to gridlock the country’s research.

Fixing this problem is time-sensitive because we cannot afford to have these gridlocks occur over and over again. Research cannot be stopped and started intermittently, particularly when working with sensitive materials like embryonic stem cells. It can take researchers weeks or months to prepare for important experiments--that time is lost when research is halted, and doubled when research is restarted. Furthermore, if these experiments are discontinued prematurely, all the data can be lost.

ESCR legislation has been passed by both houses of Congress twice before, only to be vetoed by President Bush. In addition, Research!America polls show that a majority of Americans think that the government should fund ESCR. So why don’t we have a law to reflect how the people feel?

Please, urge your representative and senator to pass the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 4808 in the House and S. 3766 in the Senate) this year. Let’s put those lame ducks to work.

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