Moderate Republicans Key to Stopping Lame-Duck Threat

The lame duck threat is real, notwithstanding political posturing from Democratic Congressional Campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and others. In fact, Harry Reid has already set the schedule for the lame-duck session: it starts November 15, breaks for a week for Thanksgiving, and reconvenes in December. Perhaps running right up to Christmas Eve, in a frightening replay of last year’s health care disaster.

We know how extreme the agenda will be, because Senate Democrats have been telling us: Sen. John Kerry told Bloomberg News that after the election, members of the Senate -- especially, of course, the losers -- will feel “free and liberated” to pass cap and trade. Sen. Tom Harkin has similarly promised to revive card check, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad expects “one of the most significant lame-duck sessions in the history of the United States.”

Last week the House of Representatives confirmed they fully intend to go along with Harry Reid’s plan to force a slate of far-left legislation on the country in a lame-duck session, when Rep. Tom Price forced a vote on the issue. Only six Democrats voted against allowing major policy changes in a lame-duck session.

Fortunately, there are three key strategies that can stop the lame-duck threat: convincing moderate Republicans to vote no on any major policy changes in a lame-duck session; educating voters in the key special election states whose new senators will be seated for the lame-duck session; and pressuring key Democratic senators, mostly those up for re-election in 2012, who will still be susceptible to public pressure in the lame-duck session.

The first strategy could be the most important: convincing moderate Republicans to filibuster any major policy change in a lame-duck session. Quite simply, even if Harry Reid can convince every single Democrat to get on board a sweeping lame-duck agenda, he can’t get to 60 votes without Republicans.

Moderate Republicans, however, pride themselves on respecting the process and being deliberate and thoughtful. The idea of jamming massive policy changes through in a matter of weeks, over the holiday season, relying on the votes of senators who have already lost election, and without hearing or proper committee consideration should be easy for them to oppose.

Last week I went to Maine to make the case to the most important swing senators on the Republican side: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

AFP-Maine State Director Trevor Bragdon and I called 57,000 Maine households for a telephone town hall, recorded a public access cable show, appeared on radio throughout the state, did a press conference in Bangor covered by all three networks, met with key business and political leaders throughout the states, and met directly with Collins and Snowe staffers.

Our message was clear: it is an inappropriate affront to the democratic process to rush through such enormous issues in a lame-duck session, to circumvent a national election, and to skip the legitimate process necessary to make good policy.

The message resonated. We met with hundreds of people -- not one supported Reid’s lame-duck agenda. As the people of Maine keep up pressure on this key issue, we hope both senators will be inclined to make clear public statements that they will oppose any major policy changes in a lame-duck session.

That on its own would go a long way toward closing the door on lame-duck mischief, because Harry Reid has been unable to reach the 60 votes needed for cloture on any significant legislation since Scott Brown’s election without Collins and Snowe. It would also send a strong signal to other moderate Republicans, including Brown, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and potential senators Mike Castle and Mark Kirk -- the Republican candidates in special elections in Delaware and Illinois, respectively, who have often voted with Democrats in the House.

The bottom line is that Senate Democrats cannot jam through an extreme policy agenda on their way out the door without help from Republican moderates. And there is no good reason for moderates to help them.