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What’s in a Lame Duck?

'U.S. Capitol east side' photo (c) 2010, Jiuguang Wang - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ 
 
By Bishop Don DiXon Williams

[This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.]

As election season progresses, you are sure to hear more about the lame duck session in Congress. You may be wondering what it all means and why it is relevant to you.

Similar to when a president faces the end of a term, the phrase “lame duck” refers to the period between the November regular election and Jan. 3 of the following year when new members of Congress take office. Traditionally, the lame duck session is a time when current lawmakers are deemed ineffective—whether or not this designation has merit—as they await the conclusion of their term. This year, however, that implication is being challenged as members of Congress will make several important decisions during the lame duck session.

 

Prior to the Nov. 6 general election, Congress will turn its attention to a short-term spending bill needed to keep the U.S. government running and avoid a shutdown. [Editor’s note: Since this article was published, House members passed a six-month continuing resolution that will fund the government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.] This will likely kick many big decisions to the lame duck session. While any legislation Congress drafts this fall will have real effects on all Americans, hungry and poor people will feel the greatest impacts.

During the lame duck session, Congress must decide what to do about the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts, which expire on Dec. 31, 2012, followed by across-the-board federal spending cuts on Jan. 2. If lawmakers fail to come to an agreement, funding for almost all federal programs will be severely diminished, including nutrition for pregnant women, education for children from low-income households, access to vital medicine for people living with AIDS, and services for homeless people.

Congress has also been unable to reach an agreement to reauthorize the farm bill. This delay puts in jeopardy the meager food security of more than 45 million people who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Current versions of the bill in both the Senate and the House propose severe cuts to food assistance programs.

At the same time, international programs such as poverty-focused foreign assistance remain on the chopping block. Any cut would translate to lives lost and increased hunger and poverty around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, one person in three suffers from chronic hunger and more than 40 percent of people do not have access to sufficient food on a daily basis. Contrary to what many people believe, these programs do not provide long-term handouts. They fight systemic poverty and provide a chance for people to thrive—helping to improve the lives of millions.

As we look towards the lame duck session, you have an opportunity to lift your voice on behalf of hungry and poor people. Domestically, communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by hunger and poverty. Cuts to key nutrition and safety net programs will dramatically impact people in need. Now is the time to let your member of Congress know you care about these issues.

Internationally, less than one percent of every federal dollar goes toward foreign assistance programs. There is no more room to cut, as people around the world depend on support from our government to help lift themselves out of poverty.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 42nd Annual Legislative Conference offers a great opportunity to engage your lawmakers on these issues. Armed with this information, you have an opportunity to help shape the lame duck session by making hunger and poverty a priority during election season and beyond.

 

Don-williams

Bishop Don DiXon Williams is racial/ethnic outreach associate at Bread for the World and sits on the board of bishops of the United Church of Jesus Christ, Baltimore, MD.

 

Learn more about hunger and the U.S. budget and how you can urge your member of Congress to form a circle of protection around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad.

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