Lame Duck / “Lame Duck” Session (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Lame Duck / “Lame Duck” Session

Lame Duck, by Andreas Olsson
Lame Duck, by Andreas Olsson

When Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” members participating in a “lame duck” session.

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The Lame Duck Explained


A “lame duck” session of Congress occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected but before the end of its own constitutional term. Under present conditions, any meeting of Congress between election day in November and the following January 3 is a lame duck session. Prior to 1933, when the Twentieth Amendment changed the dates of the congressional term, the last regular session of Congress was always a lame duck session. Today, however, the expression is primarily used for any portion of a regular session that falls after an election.

Lame duck sessions can occur in several ways. Either chamber or both chambers may (1) provide for an existing session to resume after a recess spanning the election; (2) continue meeting in intermittent, or pro forma, sessions during the period spanning the election; or (3) reconvene after an election pursuant to contingent authority granted to the leadership in a recess or adjournment resolution. Two other possibilities have not occurred: (4) Congress could set a statutory date for a new session to convene after the election, then adjourn its existing session sine die; and (5) while Congress is in recess or sine die adjournment, the President could call it into extraordinary session at a date after the election.

During both the sporadic and the consistent periods, election breaks have usually begun by mid-October and spanned between one and two months. Congress has most often reconvened in mid-November and adjourned before Christmas so that the lame duck session lasted about a month. However, in five out the past six Congresses, lame duck sessions have continued into January, producing later adjournments, longer sessions, and more days convened in daily sessions.

Lame duck sessions have been held for a variety of reasons. Their primary purpose is to complete action on legislation. However, they have also been used to prevent recess appointments and pocket vetoes, to consider motions of censure or impeachment, or to keep Congress assembled on a standby basis. In recent years, most lame duck sessions have focused on program authorizations, trade agreements, appropriations, and the budget.




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