Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

There has recently been commentary on both sides of the Atlantic, regarding the issue of recalling the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament back into session during their respective summer break periods.

In Washington, House Republicans have continued to hold discussions on the floor of the House, regarding energy legislation, even though the House has adjourned until September 8. They maintain that the Democratic leadership, which controls the agenda of the House because their party has a majority of House seats, should not have recessed for the summer before passing legislation to increase domestic energy production.

Here is a blog post on the website of Republican leader John Boehner, regarding the protest.

On the Democratic side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written to Boehner, opposing the Republican position.

The adjournment resolution provides for the following procedure for recalling Congress:

The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate, or their respective designees, acting jointly after consultation with the Minority Leader of the House and the Minority Leader of the Senate, shall notify the Members of the House and the Senate, respectively, to reassemble at such place and time as they may designate if, in their opinion, the public interest shall warrant it.

It is that procedure that Boehner wants Pelosi to implement. She disputes the Republicans' position that the public interest warrants it.

Meanwhile, Lord Norton of Louth (a.k.a. Philip Norton) has posted a discussion about recalling the British Parliament, on Lords of the Blog. Lord Norton, who sits in the U.K. House of Lords as a Conservative peer, is a professor of government at the University of Hull.

Unlike the current issue in the U.S. Congress, Lord Norton is concerned about a foreign policy matter, i.e., the war between Russia and Georgia.

Beneath that post you can see that Lord Norton and I (Richard) exchanged comments about a difference between the U.S. Congress and the U.K. House of Commons, regarding members' status at election time. Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons cease to be MPs once a general election campaign has begun. If/when they are reelected, they regain that status.

However, the terms of members of Congress continue past a general election, up to the point when the new Congress convenes the following January. It is fairly common for a "lame duck" Congress to go back into session after the election.

In fact, they used to hold another entire session of Congress, before newly-elected members were sworn in. Before the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, the general election would be held in November of each even-numbered year, the Congress would convene the following month with its membership as it stood before the election, and complete its session by March 4. Only on March 4 (also presidential inauguration day at that time) would any changes in the membership from the previous November's election take effect. If no special session were called, new members would not begin to participate in congressional sessions until 13 months after their election.

The 20th Amendment established the schedule currently in use. After a general election, a new Congress convenes on or about January 3 of the following year. New members are sworn in on that day, and participate in the new Congress from day one. After a presidential election, the president and vice president are sworn in on January 20.

Back to London: there is no provision for a "lame duck session" of the House of Commons. However, according to Lord Norton, the House of Lords continues in existence during the election campaign. He adds that government ministers stay in their jobs, and that is considered sufficient to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

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