WASHINGTON -- Congress will convene tomorrow for what some fear will be the lamest of lame-duck sessions, and GOP leaders have decided to take a minimalist approach before turning over the reins of power to the Democrats.
Rather than a final surge of legislative activity, Congress will probably wrap things up after a single, short week of work. The leaders have even decided to leave decisions on annual government spending measures for the Democrats next year.
"There is a lot of battle fatigue among members, probably on both sides of the aisle," said Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, usually a reliable conservative firebrand. "Members of Congress are human beings. They have a certain shelf life and a certain amount of energy to be drawn on. We're tired."
Several members are pressing for action on key bills, but few expect them to succeed.
Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, wants legislation on the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Representative Christopher Smith, Republican of New Jersey, says the time has come for Congress to declare that aborted fetuses feel pain. And Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, still maintains that the District of Columbia should be granted a vote in the House while Republicans control Congress.
Before the midterm elections, GOP leaders had dismissed the Democrats' "do-nothing" label for the 109th Congress as political posturing, promising that a robust post election session would put the accusation to rest.
Instead, Republican lawmakers will have met for one week in November, devoted almost exclusively to leadership elections for next year, and one week in December, largely to pick committee assignments, move offices, and pass a measure to keep the government operating through February.
That will mean this Congress will have spent the least time in session of any in at least half a century, according to Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, congressional historians and the authors of "The Broken Branch," a critical look at recent Congresses. In the time they did meet, lawmakers will have failed to approve a budget resolution or pass at least eight of the 11 annual spending bills.