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Gazette Premium Content GUEST COLUMN: Colorado voters can help stop the lame duck session threat

Jeff Crank and Phil Kerpen Updated: August 6, 2010 at 12:00 am

Colorado voters have a huge opportunity to derail the radical lame duck agenda, and at the same time, ensure their Senate delegation represents the will of the people. If appointed Senator Michael Bennet loses his first election bid here, tradition suggests he should resign and allow the winner to be seated immediately for the lame duck.

The implications are huge because Congress may, after the election, convene for what Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota has called: “one of the most significant lame-duck sessions in the history of the United States.”

The reason is simple — Democrats know they are going to suffer major losses this year, with likely more Senate losses to follow in 2012 and 2014, because 2006 and 2008 were such big Democratic years. So the narrow window of the lame duck session — a post-election session of the old Congress, including the losers — is the last best chance to pass big-ticket agenda items. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, summed it up: “the lame duck would be the last chance, quite honestly, for the foreseeable future.”

If Bennet loses, he will be in a situation — an appointed senator defeated in his first election bid for a full six-year term — last seen in 1988. That year, in Nebraska, David Karnes (R) lost to Bob Kerrey (D). Karnes resigned on election day. It happened twice in 1978, in Minnesota where Wendy Anderson (DFL) lost to Rudy Boschwitz (R) and in Montana where Paul Hatfield (D) lost his primary to Max Baucus (D). Both appointed senators resigned in December.

The last time an appointed senator lost a bid for a full term and refused to resign was in 1970, when New York’s Robert Goodell (R) lost to Jim Buckley (C). Goodell remained in office for that year’s lame duck session, an ambitious lame duck driven by President Nixon’s agenda — not a proud model for Bennet to follow.

The lame duck session looks increasingly likely — and increasingly ambitious. Sen. Kerry continues to stress that cap-and-trade will be on the agenda, and Sen. Harry Reid (who may be a lame duck himself after election day) confirmed it to the Netroots Nation audience, saying: “We’re going to have to have a lame-duck session, so we’re not giving up.”

Along with cap-and-trade, a lame duck will likely consider the recommendations of Obama’s deficit commission — a package that will include enormous tax hikes and could draw the support of some departing Republicans like Judd Gregg of New Hampshire George Voinovich of Ohio, and Robert Bennett of Utah.

And organized labor, seeing the lame duck as their last chance for a legislative return on their political investments for years, will also demand lame duck action. While Sen. Tom Harkin is still promising some version of card check, more likely is Sen. Bob Casey’s proposed union pension bailout, S. 3157, which would relieve unions of their pension obligations — with a potential price tag for taxpayers in the billions. Democratic Whip Dick Durbin signed on as a co-sponsor yesterday, indicating this bill is a top priority.

Three other states – Illinois, West Virginia and Delaware – are holding special elections that will allow newly-elected senators to be seated immediately for the lame duck. Colorado deserves the same. The stakes are simply too high for an un-elected senator to remain in office once a duly-elected replacement is available.

Colorado voters should demand Bennet promise to respect the election results by resigning if he is rejected by voters in his first election to the office of U.S. Senator.

In addition, voters should ask all candidates in both parties, including Bennet himself — for a clear statement on whether they think it is appropriate for Congress to pursue major policy changes against the will of the American people in a lame duck session, and consider their answers seriously as they head to the voting booth.

Jeff Crank is Colorado state director and Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity.

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