Jim DeMint likes his zombies on television or in the movies, not roaming the halls of Congress.
DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina who now heads the conservative Heritage Foundation, is among the voices worried about House and Senate members who were defeated in Tuesday’s elections or are retiring from office voting on critical budgetary and national security matters when Congress returns for a lame-duck session next week.
“These zombie politicians were just rejected by voters and they shouldn’t have one last chance to fleece taxpayers on behalf of special interests,” DeMint said in an email interview with McClatchy.
DeMint and other conservatives worry that defeated or retiring lawmakers ‑ “zombies,” in the words of columnist George Will, who coined the term ‑ are the politically walking dead with nothing to lose. Instead of being beholden to voters, they could go rogue and actually vote their conscience.
“With no electorate to appease, the newly politically ‘deceased’ members have no incentive to restrain their baser urges to feast upon the hard-earned tax dollars of the living,” DeMint added in a column for “The Daily Signal,” a Heritage Foundation online publication.
Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said she’d prefer to see the entire 113th Congress, losers and incumbent winners, become zombies and roam the countryside until the 114th Congress is sworn in in January.
Besides, lawmakers were gone most of the summer and fall, Martin said – why rush back to Washington now?
“I know they have to do a spending bill, but we would like to see as little as possible done in the lame duck and wait for the new Congress,” Martin said. “Congress has been able to be out of Washington a lot since July. If it wasn’t urgent before the elections, it can wait until the next Congress.”
Lawmakers do behave and vote differently in lame-duck sessions, according to a report released in September by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. The study, which analyzed more than 28,000 House and 22,000 Senate roll call votes between 1939 and 2013, found that lame-duck lawmakers were 3 to 4 percent less likely to vote along party lines.
“For legislators who are retiring or have been voted out of office, a lame-duck session is a unique opportunity to ignore the wishes of special interests, campaign donors, other legislators and party bosses,” Matthew Mitchell and Emily Washington, co-authors with Christopher Koopman of the Mercatus Center study, wrote last month for the website RealClearPolitics. “Only as lame ducks can they freely vote as they wish.”
That’s if they showed up at all. The report also found that House members were 50 percent more likely to miss votes and senators 30 percent more likely to skip on the yeas or nays in lame-duck sessions.
The 113th Congress has a long to-do list before it adjourns next month. House and Senate appropriators are working on an omnibus spending bill to keep the federal government funded beyond Dec. 11.
Lawmakers will get another chance to weigh in on matters of war and peace as President Barack Obama’s authorization to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State expires next month. And the Senate will attempt to push through hundreds of Obama administration judicial, ambassadorial and administrative nominees before adjourning next month. One of those nominees could be a yet-to-be-named replacement for departing Attorney General Eric Holder.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, thinks soon-to-be ex-lawmakers will handle their lame-duck duties just fine.
“I know a few of my colleagues have said the lame-duck Congress shouldn’t do anything, but I think there are a few things you can do that the next Congress won’t do dramatically differently,” Blunt told reporters this week. “As long as you have a Republican House, I don’t think senators need to be overly worried about what a lame-duck Senate is going to do.”
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., believes “there should be an accommodation” in the lame duck “based on the people having spoken so emphatically” in the elections. But he’s not scared or worried about what zombie lawmakers will do in Congress’ closing days.
“A lame duck, where there is a transition at the end, is an opportunity to get things done by consensus, which is the way we’ve historically done things in the Senate anyway,” Wicker said.
That’s if they show up to vote.