Lame Duck Sessions of Congress, 1935-2004 (74th-108th Congresses)

CRS Report for Congress
Lame Duck Sessions of Congress,
1935-2004 (74-108 Congresses)
October 2, 2006
Richard S. Beth
Specialist in the Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Lame Duck Sessions of Congress,

1935-2004 (74th-108th Congresses)

A “lame duck” session of Congress occurs whenever one Congress meets after
its successor is elected, but before the successor’s term begins. The expression is
now used not only for a special session called after a sine die adjournment, but also
for any portion of a regular session that falls after an election. In current practice, any
meeting of Congress after election day, but before the following January 3, is a lame
duck session. Prior to 1933, when the 20th Amendment changed the dates of the
congressional term, the last regular session of Congress was always a lame duck
A lame duck session can occur in several ways. (1) In practice, Congress has
usually provided for its existing session to resume after a recess spanning the
election. (In 1954, only the Senate returned in this way, while the House adjourned
sine die.) (2) In 1940, 1942, and 2002, Congress continued meeting, sometimes in
pro forma sessions every third day, until well after the election. (3) Congress can
reconvene after an election pursuant to contingent authority granted to the leadership
in a recess or adjournment resolution (in 1998, the House alone followed this course).
Two other possibilities have not been realized: (4) Congress could set a statutory
date for a new session to convene after the election, then adjourn its existing session
sine die. (5) While Congress is in recess or sine die adjournment, the President could
call it into extraordinary session at a date after the election.
Congress held a total of 15 lame duck sessions from 1940 through 2004.
Recesses preceding lame duck sessions have usually begun by mid-October, and
typically lasted between one and two months. Congress typically reconvened in mid-
November and adjourned before Christmas, so that the lame duck session lasted
about a month. Some recesses, however, have begun as early as August 7 or as late
as November 3, and ended as early as November 8 or as late as December 31. Lame
duck sessions have ended as early as November 22 and as late as January 3, and have
extended over as few as one, and as many as 145, calendar days.
Some lame duck sessions have been held largely for pro forma reasons (e.g.,
1948), on a standby basis (e.g., 1940, 1942), or to deal with a single specific matter
(e.g., 1954, 1998, 1994). Some sessions, as well, have deferred major matters to the
succeeding Congress (e.g., 1944, 1982, 2004), especially when a stronger majority
for the same party was in prospect. Most, however, could be regarded as at least
moderately productive. When the President has presented an extensive agenda to a
lame duck session controlled by his own party, it has often approved many of his
recommendations (e.g., 1950, 2002, 2004), but when he has done so under conditions
of divided government, he has had less success, and has often vetoed measures (e.g.,
1970, 1974, 1982). Additionally, a major task of most lame duck sessions in recent
years has been to complete action on appropriations and the budget. In 1974, 1980,
1982, 2000, and 2004, this effort was at least somewhat successful, but in 1970 and

2002 a final resolution was largely left to the following Congress.

This report will be updated after any additional lame duck session occurs.

What Makes a Lame Duck Session....................................1
Meaning of “Lame Duck”.......................................1
Lame Duck Sessions in the Modern Congress .......................2th
Lame Duck Sessions Before the 20 Amendment.....................2
How Lame Duck Sessions May Occur.................................3
Sine Die Adjournment and its Effects..............................3
Recess of the Session...........................................4
Contingent Authority to Reconvene...............................5
Intermittent and Pro Forma Sessions..............................5
Sessions Called by the President..................................6
Characteristics of Lame Duck Sessions Since 1935.......................6
Occurrence of Sessions.........................................8
Means of Calling Sessions.......................................8
Timing of Sessions.............................................8
Length of Sessions.............................................9
Lame Duck Sessions Since 1935.....................................10thrd
76 Congress, 3 Session (1940-1941)............................10

77th Congress, 2nd Session (1942).................................10thnd

78 Congress, 2 Session (1944).................................11

80th Congress, 2nd Session (1948).................................12stnd

81 Congress, 2 Session (1950-1951)............................12

83rd Congress, 2nd Session (1954)................................13stnd

91 Congress, 2 Session (1970-1971)............................13

93rd Congress, 2nd Session (1974)................................14thnd

96 Congress, 2 Session (1980).................................14

97th Congress, 2nd Session (1982).................................15rdnd

103 Congress, 2 Session (1994)...............................16

105th Congress, 2nd Session (1998)................................16thnd

106 Congress, 2 Session (2000)................................16

107th Congress, 2nd Session (2002)................................17thnd

108 Congress, 2 Session (2004)................................17
List of Tables
Table 1. Lame Duck Sessions of Congress, 1935-2004 (74th-108th Congresses).7

Lame Duck Sessions of Congress,
1935-2004 (74-108 Congresses)
What Makes a Lame Duck Session
A “lame duck” session of Congress is one that takes place after the election for
the next Congress has been held, but before the current Congress has reached the end
of its constitutional term. Under contemporary conditions, any meeting of Congress
that occurs between a congressional election in November and the following January
3 is a lame duck session. The significant characteristic of a lame duck session is that
its participants are the sitting Members of the existing Congress, not those who will1
be entitled to sit in the new Congress.
Meaning of “Lame Duck”
The expression “lame duck” was originally applied in 18th century Britain to
bankrupt businessmen, who were considered as “lame” in the sense that the
impairment of their powers rendered them vulnerable, like a game bird injured by
shot. By the 1830s, the usage had been extended to officeholders whose service
already had a known termination date. In current American usage, for instance, a
President is considered a “lame duck” not only if he has been defeated for re-election,
or after his successor has been elected, but also whenever he cannot be, or is known
not to be, a candidate for reelection.
Members of Congress in similar circumstances are also considered “lame
ducks.” The expression may accordingly be applied to Members who are known not
to be seeking re-election as well as to those who have been defeated. In particular,
however, after an election of Congress, all the Members who did not gain reelection
can be described as lame ducks until the term of the new Congress starts. When the
previously sitting Congress, which includes these Members, meets in a post-election
session, this session is called a lame duck session as well.2

1 Earlier versions of this report were prepared by the present author in collaboration with
Richard C. Sachs, formerly Specialist in American National Government in CRS. In
particular, Mr. Sachs was responsible for much of the text describing individual lame duck
2 See Raymond W. Smock, “Lame Duck Session,” in Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson,
and Morton Keller, eds., The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress (New York:
Simon & Schuster, (c) 1995), vol. 3, pp. 1244-1245.

Lame Duck Sessions in the Modern Congress
The possibility of a lame duck session of Congress in the modern sense began
in 1935, when the 20th Amendment to the Constitution took effect. Under this
amendment, ratified in 1933, Congress meets in a regular session on January 3 of
each year, unless in the previous session it passes a law changing the date. Also, the
terms of Members begin and end on January 3 of odd-numbered years. Under these
arrangements, any meeting of Congress after election day (in November of even-
numbered years), but before the following January 3, is a lame duck session.
From 1935 through 2004, there were 15 lame duck sessions. The most recent
one occurred at the end of the 108th Congress in 2004. This report examines only the
specific lame duck sessions that have occurred since 1935, not those that occurred
routinely before this date, as explained in the following section.
Lame Duck Sessions Before the 20th Amendment
The Constitution originally provided that the regular sessions of Congress begin
annually on the first Monday in December. In the process of initiating the
government under the Constitution, it was established that the term of Congress
would begin and end of March 4 of odd-numbered years.3 As today, however,
congressional elections were generally held in November of even-numbered years.
The result was that after being elected in (an even-numbered) November, a new
Congress did not begin its term until the following (odd-numbered) March, and was
not required to convene until the following December, 13 months after it was first
elected.4 This first December session of Congress typically continued until sometime
in the summer of the following (even-numbered) year. The Congress would then
adjourn until the time for the next regular session prescribed by the Constitution, the
following (even-numbered) December.
When Congress reconvened at that time, however, the next Congress would
already have been elected, in the intervening (even-numbered) November. The term
of that newly elected Congress, on the other hand, would not begin until the
following March. The Congress that convened in an even-numbered December,
accordingly, could not be the newly elected one, but could only be the one already
sitting. Under these arrangements, as a result, the last session of every Congress was

3 See Johnny H. Killian, George A. Costello, and Kenneth R. Thomas, eds., The Constitution
of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, prepared by the Congressional
Research Service, Library of Congress (Washington: GPO, 2004), p. 2089 [commentary onth
the 20 Amendment].
4 In practice, a new Congress was sometimes first convened in an extra session that began
closer to the start of its constitutional term. As described in following sections, this extra
session could occur pursuant to either a presidential call or a law passed by the previous

always a lame duck session.5 One purpose of the 20th Amendment was to change
these arrangements that routinely required every Congress to hold its last session as
a lame duck session.6
How Lame Duck Sessions May Occur
Under the 20th Amendment, lame duck sessions can still occur, but only as a
result of specific actions undertaken either by the Congress already sitting or by the
President. The specific actions through which a sitting Congress might reconvene
after an election, but during the last portion of its own term of office, are of several
kinds. The following sections describe these possible means of reconvening.
Although some have been used rarely and others not at all, each method helps to
illuminate the constitutional arrangements that make lame duck sessions possible and
the conditions in which they may operate.
The courses of action through which Congress might reconvene for a lame duck
session include doing so: (1) pursuant to a previously enacted law prescribing an
additional session of Congress; (2) following a recess within a session, but spanning
the election; (3) under authority granted to the leadership at the time of a contingent
adjournment or recess of the session; (4) by continuing to meet, perhaps in pro forma
sessions, throughout the period spanning the election; and (5) in response to a
presidential proclamation calling an extraordinary session.
Sine Die Adjournment and its Effects
Although the “lame duck sessions” that have occurred before and after 1935 are
both “lame duck” in the same sense, they are not “sessions” in the same sense.
Formally, a session of Congress ends when Congress adjourns sine die.7 The Latin
phrase, literally translated as “without day,” is used to mean that Congress has
adjourned without setting a day for its next meeting. An adjournment sine die,
therefore, means that Congress is not scheduled to meet again until the day set by the
Constitution (or by law) for its next session to convene. When Congress adjourns
sine die in an election year, it is not scheduled to meet again until after the term of
the new Congress begins. That meeting will therefore begin the first session of the
new Congress.

5 This session, beginning in the even-numbered December, could last only last until the term
of the sitting Congress expired early in the following March, when the new Congress came
into office. For this reason, it was colloquially known as the “short session.”
6 See P. Orman Ray, “Lame-Duck Amendment,” in Stanley I. Kutler, ed., Dictionary of
American History, 3d ed. (New York: Scribner, 2003), vol. 5, p. 24. For more informationth
on the adoption of the 20 Amendment, see Alan P. Grimes, Democracy and the
Amendments to the Constitution (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath, (c)

1978), pp. 104-108.

7 In congressional usage, the phrase is generally pronounced “sign a dye.”

Before 1935, Congress would normally adjourn its previous session sine die
before the November elections. When it returned for its prescribed meeting in
December, accordingly, a new session began. Under these conditions, the “lame
duck session” of each Congress was actually a session in its own right, numerically
distinct from the previous session (or sessions) of the same Congress. Accordingly,
each of the lame duck sessions that occurred routinely before 1935 was convened as
a separate session of the Congress already sitting.
Congress today could achieve an equivalent result by adjourning its session sine
die before an election, after first providing by law for an additional session of the old
Congress to convene on a date after the election. This additional, post-election
session (probably the third session of the old Congress) would be a lame duck session
in same sense as those that occurred routinely before 1935. It would be a new,
separately numbered session of the old Congress. Subsequent to the implementation
of the 20th Amendment in 1935, however, Congress has never made use of this first
means of bringing about a lame duck session.
Recess of the Session
Instead, when a Congress has decided to continue meeting after an election, its
usual practice has been not to adjourn sine die, but simply to recess its existing
session for a period spanning the election, and then to reconvene at a date still within
the constitutional term of the sitting Congress. Since 1935, this second means of
bringing about a lame duck session has been used on 11 occasions, as detailed in
Table 1 and the section on “Means of Calling Sessions.”
Congress authorizes a session recess in the same way it authorizes a sine die
adjournment, by adopting a concurrent resolution. This form of authorization is
necessary because the Constitution provides that “Neither House, during the Session
of Congress shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three
days....”8 A concurrent resolution requires adoption by both houses, and accordingly
can be used for each house to consent to the adjournment of the other.
This constitutional requirement applies both to sine die adjournments and to
session recesses, which are technically adjournments within a session. Unlike a sine
die adjournment, however, a recess does not terminate an existing session of
Congress. When Congress reconvenes at the conclusion of a recess, accordingly, no
new session begins, but the previously existing session resumes. Under these
conditions, the post-election meeting of Congress is not a separate, new session of
the old Congress, but a continuation of its existing session (probably its second
session). Nevertheless, the phrase “lame duck session” has persisted as a way of
referring to any post-election meeting of the old Congress, even though it now
normally does not designate a separate session of Congress, but rather refers simply
to the post-election portion of an ongoing existing session.

8 Constitution, Article I, sec. 5.

Contingent Authority to Reconvene
The two sequences of events just discussed (a recess of an existing session and
adjourning sine die after providing for a new session) are not the only ones that can
lead to a lame duck session. A third such course of events becomes possible if, when
Congress recesses before an election, it grants contingent authority to its leadership
to reconvene it, or either house, “if the public interest shall require.” In the period
since ratification of the 20th Amendment, the practice has grown up that Congress
often includes this contingent authority, in some form, in concurrent resolutions
providing for a session recess or a sine die adjournment.
If Congress included this contingent authority in a resolution providing for a
recess spanning an election, the leadership might use the authority to reconvene
Congress before the scheduled expiration of the recess. It might do so either before
or after the election itself, but in either case, any portion of the reconvened session
occurring after the election would be considered a lame duck session. During the
time since the 20th Amendment took effect, however, this course of action has not
been taken.
If Congress adjourns sine die with contingent reconvening authority, on the
other hand, the sine die character of the adjournment becomes final only if the
leadership does not exercise this authority by the time the next session of Congress
is slated to convene, pursuant to either the Constitution or law. If the authority is
exercised, the existing session of the old Congress resumes, and the previous
adjournment turns out not to have been sine die. Any post-election portion of this
continuation of the previous session of Congress would be considered a lame duck
session. The Speaker of the House used authority of this kind in 1998 to reconvene
the chamber in a post-election continuation of a session that had previously been
terminated by a conditional sine die adjournment.9
Intermittent and Pro Forma Sessions
A fourth way in which a lame duck session can occur arises if Congress chooses
not to authorize a recess spanning an election. In this case, the lame duck session
occurs if Congress simply continues to meet throughout the pre-election period and
afterwards. Any portion of the continuing session of Congress that takes place after
the election would be considered a lame duck session. As Table 1 and the
accompanying discussion shows, Congress has taken this course of action on three
occasions since 1935.
On some occasions, under these conditions, each house has chosen to meet only
on every third day during the period spanning the election (and sometimes throughout
the post-election period as well, until sine die adjournment). In addition, it is not
necessary that either house transact any business during these intermittent meetings.
If, during a given day’s session, no business is transacted, it becomes a pro forma

9 “Notification of Reassembling of Congress,” proceedings in the House, Congressional
Record, vol. 144, Dec. 17, 1998, p. 27770. See H.Con.Res. 353, 105th Cong., 112 Stat. 3699
at 3700.

session, meaning one held only “for the sake of formality.” In this case, the formality
being satisfied is the constitutional requirement that neither house recess for more
than three days if the other has not consented to a recess.10
Sessions Called by the President
A final means by which a lame duck session could occur arises from the
constitutional authorization for the President to convene Congress, “on extraordinary
occasions,” by calling a special session.11 If Congress convenes, pursuant to this call,
after a sine die adjournment and before the next session is scheduled to begin, a new
session of the existing Congress begins. This course of events has not occurred since
1935.12 On the other hand, if the President calls Congress back during a recess of an
existing session, the existing session resumes. This course of events occurred in
1948, when President Harry Truman called Congress back for an extraordinary
session in the middle of a recess for the national political conventions.
The extraordinary session called by President Truman did not constitute a lame
duck session, because it both convened and recessed before the election. By the same
means, however, a President might call an extraordinary session to convene at a date
after the election and before the term of the sitting Congress ends. He could do so
whether Congress had only recessed its previous session or had adjourned it sine die.
In either case, the post-election meeting of Congress would be considered a lame
duck session.13 No lame duck session since 1935 has occurred through this means.
Characteristics of Lame Duck Sessions Since 1935
Since the 20th Amendment became effective in 1935, there have been 15 lame
duck sessions. For each of them, Table 1 provides information on
!when the pre-election portion of the session ended;
!whether Congress stayed in session, recessed to a specified date, or
adjourned sine die;
!when the post-election, or “lame duck,” portion of the session began;
!when Congress adjourned the post-election session sine die.

10 See Walter Kravitz, Congressional Quarterly’s American Congressional Dictionary, 3rd
ed. (Washington: CQ Press, 2001), p. 192.
11 Constitution, Article II, sec. 3.
12 In 1937 and 1939, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Congress into special
second sessions after sine die adjournment of the first session. U. S. Congress, House,th
Deschler’s Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, H. Doc. 94-661, 94nd
Cong., 2 sess., vol. 1, by Lewis Deschler, Parliamentarian of the House 1928-1974
(Washington: GPO, 1977), chapter 1, secs. 2 and 3.
13 Ibid., chapter 1, Sec. 2.1.

In instances when the two houses took differing actions, or took the same action on
different dates, the table provides separate data for each house. These data permit
some generalizations about the occurrence, form, timing, and length of the 15 lame
duck sessions that have occurred since 1935.
Table 1. Lame Duck Sessions of Congress,

1935-2004 (74th-108th Congresses)

Year ofCongress aPre-Election Session EndedPost-Election Session
ElectionDateForm BeganAdjourned Sine Die
194076th No recessHouse: Jan. 2, 1941 Senate: Jan. 3, 1941
194277th No recess Dec. 16
194478th Sept. 21 RecessedNov. 14 Dec. 19
194880th Aug. 7RecessedDec. 31 Dec. 31
1950 81st Sept. 23RecessedNov. 27Jan. 2, 1951
195483rd Aug. 20House: AdjournedSenate: RecessedSenate: Nov. 8 Senate: Dec. 2
1970 91st Oct. 14RecessedNov. 16 Jan. 2, 1971
197493rd Oct. 17Recessed Nov. 18 Dec. 20
198096th House: Oct. 2Senate: Oct. 1Recessed Nov. 12 Dec. 16
198297th Oct. 1RecessedNov. 29 House: Dec. 21Senate: Dec. 23
1994103rd Oct. 8RecessedNov. 28 House: Nov. 29Senate: Nov. 30
bHouse: Dec. 19
1998105th Oct. 21AdjournedHouse: Dec. 17
2000106th House: Nov. 3Senate: Nov. 2RecessedHouse: Nov. 13Senate: Nov. 14Dec. 15
2002107th No recessHouse: Nov. 22Senate: Nov. 20
2004108th House: Oct. 8Senate: Oct. 11Recessed Nov. 13House: Dec. 7Senate: Dec. 8
Sources: Congressional Record, Daily Digest, and Journals of the House and Senate.
Notes: rdth
a. Second session, except 3 session of the 76 Congress.
b. Reconvened pursuant to contingent authority granted to leadership in the adjournment resolution.

Occurrence of Sessions
Lame duck sessions were frequent in the years surrounding World War II,
occurring in six of eight Congresses (76th through 83rd) between 1940 and 1954.
None occurred from 1956 through and 1968. There were two in each of the next
three decades. Another gap occurred from 1984 through 1992. Since then, lame
duck sessions have occurred in five of the six Congresses (103rd through 108th),
including the last four Congresses in a row.
On one occasion, in 1954, only the Senate returned, and only to consider the
censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy; and once, in 1998, only the House returned,
principally to consider the impeachment of President William J. Clinton.
Means of Calling Sessions
Twelve lame duck sessions have been preceded by a recess spanning the
election. The remaining three Congresses continued to meet intermittently, often in
pro forma session, during the election period. The latter schedule was used for the
first two lame duck sessions after adoption of the 20th Amendment, which occurred
shortly before or during World War II, in 1940 and 1942. It was again used only in


Congress suspended its session during the election period preceding 12 lame
duck sessions since 1935. On seven of these 12 occasions (1944, 1948, 1974, 1994,
1998, 2000, and 2004), the resolution providing for the break afforded contingent
authority to the leadership to call Congress back before the scheduled resumption of
the session. For the remaining five lame duck sessions (1950, 1954, 1970, 1980, and

1982), Congress did not afford the leadership this authority.

Ten of these 12 election breaks represented recesses of the ongoing session of
Congress. The remaining two cases were those, mentioned above, in which only one
house returned after the election. In 1954, the House adjourned sine die and the
Senate recessed (with no contingent reconvening authority), permitting the Senate to
deal with the censure of Senator McCarthy in a lame duck session. In 1998, both
houses adjourned sine die with contingent reconvening authority. The House
leadership then used the reconvening authority to call the chamber back to address
the question of impeachment. This last instance is the only occasion on which a lame
duck session has convened pursuant to contingent authority of the leadership.
Timing of Sessions
Since 1970, when Congress has recessed before a lame duck session, the
beginning of the recess has most often occurred in early to mid-October. The latest
that Congress has ever continued to meet before recessing for an election was in 2000th
(106 Congress), when the Senate left on November 2 and the House on November
3. Prior to 1970, by contrast, each of the four election recesses preceding a lame
duck session began in September or August. The earliest start of an election recess
was August 7, 1948 (80th Congress). In this case, Congress had recessed its regular

session on June 20, scheduling itself to reconvene on December 31, but President
Truman had called Congress back into extraordinary session on July 26.
Most commonly, lame duck sessions have convened in the latter half of
November. The latest date of reconvening after an election was that of the 80th
Congress on December 31, 1948. Except for years when Congress took no election
recess, the earliest reconvening of both houses occurred in 1980, when the 97th
Congress returned on November 12, but in 1954 (83rd Congress), the Senate alone
returned on November 8. Congress also reconvened on relatively early dates in 2000
(106th Congress), when the House returned on November 13 and the Senate on
November 14, and in 1944 (78th Congress), when both houses returned on November


Lame duck sessions have most often adjourned sine die in about mid-December,
or at least before Christmas. The 76th Congress, however, did not close until January
3, 1941, when the 77th Congress was to convene. This termination represents the
latest sine die adjournment among the 15 lame duck sessions. Other late
terminations occurred in the 81st and 91st Congresses, both of which adjourned sine
die on January 2 (1951 and 1971, respectively). The earliest end of a lame duck
session occurred in 2002 (107th Congress), when the House adjourned sine die on
November 22, the Senate having done so two days earlier.
Length of Sessions
Lame duck sessions since 1935 have typically lasted about a month. The
average (that is, mean) length from commencement to closing has been 28 calendar
days; the median, 33 (that is, half the lame duck sessions were longer than 33 days
and half shorter). Eight of the 15 lame duck sessions have lasted between 25 and 37
calendar days; only three have exceeded this range. The longest was the first (76th
Congress), which lasted 58 days, meeting (usually every third day) between
November 7, 1940 (the day after election day), and January 3, 1941. The 77th
Congress (1942) followed a similar pattern, but adjourned sine die after 48 calendar
days. The lame duck session of the 91st Congress reached 45 calendar days by
remaining in session until January 2, 1971. The shortest lame duck session occurred
in the 80th Congress, when both houses returned solely to close the session on
December 31, 1948. Other unusually short the lame duck sessions included those of
1994 (103rd Congress) and 1998 (105th Congress, House only), each of which lasted
only three calendar days.
The length of the recess preceding a lame duck session has also varied. On the
12 occasions since 1935 when Congress recessed for the election, the recess typically
lasted between one month and two. Nine of the 12 election recesses fell between 30
and 64 days in length; the mean length of all 12 has been 54 days and the median 51.
The only election recess shorter than 30 days occurred in 2000, when the 106th
Congress recessed for only nine days around the election. The longest election recess
occurred in 1948 (80th Congress), when 145 days elapsed between the end of the
special session called by President Truman and the largely pro forma reconvening
and adjournment on December 31. The only other election recess longer than 64
days occurred in 1954 (83rd Congress), and lasted 79 days.

Lame Duck Sessions Since 1935
Following are summaries of the 15 lame duck sessions held since 1935.
Primary sources, including the Congressional Record and Congressional Directory,
and secondary sources, including the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, CQ
Almanac, and, for the earlier years, The New York Times, constituted the basis for
these descriptions. Internet-based sources were also utilized.

76th Congress, 3rd Session (1940-1941)

After the first session of the 76th Congress adjourned in August 1939, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt called Congress into extraordinary session in September to
deal with the threat of war in Europe, and this session lasted into November. Thus,
the annual session that began on January 3, 1940, was the third session of the 76th
Congress. It, too, was dominated by the international situation. The President
requested the largest peacetime defense program to that point in American history,
and, by the end of the summer, Congress had enacted $13 billion in defense
authorizations and appropriations, a military draft, income tax revisions, an excess
profits tax, and related measures.
In June, July, and again in September 1940, the President offered the view that
Congress need not remain in session any longer. Some congressional leaders,
however, held that Congress should “stand by” in session, in case of emergency.
Congress met regularly through mid-October, then limited itself to two or three
meetings per week until January 3, 1941; there was no extended recess for the
November 1940 elections. The session thus became the longest in history to that
During the lame duck period following the election, little was undertaken; the
Congressional Record from November 4, 1940 through January 3, 1941 covers fewer
than 500 pages, and quorums were often hard to raise. The administration declined
to send major new proposals (such as a defense production board, aid to Britain, new
taxes, and an increase in the debt limit) to Capitol Hill until the 77th Congress would
convene in January. Work also was impeded because both the House and Senate had
to meet in substitute quarters while their chambers in the Capitol underwent repairs.
Among the more notable actions of this lame duck period were the decision to sustain
the veto of a measure to limit regulatory agency powers, and the publication of a
committee report on sabotage of the defense effort.

77th Congress, 2nd Session (1942)

In the wartime year of 1942, Congress again remained in session continuously
through the election, adjourning sine die on December 16. Congress generally
followed a regular schedule of daily meetings throughout the period, except near the
election, when it met every third day.
Activities in the lame duck portion of the 77th Congress were affected by the
knowledge that the 78th Congress, to begin in January, would contain a much
narrowed Democratic majority. Congress declined to take final action to approve the

Third War Powers Bill14 or a bill to expand the Reconstruction Finance Corporation,
including an agricultural parity rider attached to the latter. Other questions left to the
next Congress included comprehensive national service legislation, placing a ceiling
on net personal income through the tax code, curbing the powers of regulatory
agencies, and planning for censorship of communications with U.S. territories. A bill
to abolish poll taxes passed the House, but fell to a filibuster in the Senate.
Congress did pass legislation to adjust overtime pay for government workers,
and to provide for the military draft of 18- and 19-year-old men (although Congress
deferred deciding whether to require a full year’s training before sending them into
By mid-December, quorums became difficult to obtain and leaders of both
parties agreed that nothing further could be brought up before the start of the 78th
Congress in January 1943.

78th Congress, 2nd Session (1944)

Two years later, with World War II still in progress, Congress recessed for the
national party conventions and recessed again for the elections. The latter recess
began on September 21, 1944. Congress returned on November 14 and remained in
session until December 19. Accordingly, 1944 marks the first instance after
ratification of the 20th Amendment of a separate and distinct meeting of Congress
during its lame duck period.
Among the issues facing the post-election session were questions of peacetime
universal military training; extension of the War Powers Act15 and the reciprocal
trade system; a scheduled increase in Social Security taxes; and a rivers and harbors
appropriations bill. Congress also debated congressional reform issues, including
restructuring the committee system and increasing congressional pay. Postwar
reconstruction and a renewal of domestic programs were also mentioned as possible
subjects for action.
Ultimately, Congress deferred several issues until the start of the 79th Congress,
including universal military training, the Bretton Woods monetary agreements, the
Reciprocal Trade Act, and changes to the Social Security system. Several other
measures could not be completed, including a rivers and harbors bill, a Senate-passed
bill making major changes in congressional procedures; and a pay increase for postal
workers. A bill delaying the Social Security tax increase was enacted, however, as
were a renewal of the War Powers Act and a bill increasing the congressional clerk-
hire allowance. In addition, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Edward R.
Stettinius as Secretary of State.

14 This legislation related to the conduct of World War II, and has no connection with the
War Powers Resolution (P.L. 93-148, 87 Stat. 555, 50 U.S.C. 1541-1548) enacted in 1973
to regulate commitments of U.S. armed forces abroad.
15 Like the measure referred to in the previous note, this legislation related to the conduct
of World War II, and has no connection with the contemporary War Powers Resolution.

80th Congress, 2nd Session (1948)

Congress recessed in August 1948, before the national party conventions, with
the intention of returning only on December 31 to bring the 80th Congress to a formal
conclusion, unless earlier called back by congressional leaders. During the
convention recess, however, President Harry S Truman called Congress back in
extraordinary session to deal with a series of legislative priorities he considered
urgent. This occurrence represents the only time since the adoption of the 20th
Amendment that the President has convened Congress in an extraordinary session.
Congress met pursuant to this call from July 27 to August 7, but then recessed
again under the same terms as before. The leadership did not exercise its option to
reconvene Congress during this new recess, and Congress met again only on
December 31. This session, the shortest lame duck session under the 20th
Amendment, met for just under an hour and a half, then adjourned sine die.
During the brief session, both chambers approved a measure extending for 60
days the life of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of
Government (Hoover Commission). The Senate also extended for 30 days the life
of the Special Small Business Committee, and both houses swore in new Members
elected or appointed to full unexpired terms.

81st Congress, 2nd Session (1950-1951)

With the Korean War at a critical juncture in the fall of 1950, congressional
leaders announced in late September that after the election Congress would
reconvene in late November. Until November, Congress would be available to meet
should the President call an emergency session. Congress recessed on September 23
and convened for the lame duck session on November 27.
As the lame duck session met, Chinese troops crossed into Korea, and General
Douglas A. MacArthur warned Congress that the United Nations faced “an entirely
new” war in the region. The Korean War and the possible use of atomic weapons
dominated congressional attention through the session. Nevertheless, President
Truman presented congressional leaders with a list of 13 proposals, including five he
described as of “greatest urgency.” The five included several measures favored by
congressional leaders: aid to Yugoslavia and supplemental appropriations for defense
and atomic energy. The President also asked Congress to act on an excess profits tax,
an extension of federal rent controls, and statehood for Hawaii and Alaska.
Congress stayed in session through the New Year. It approved the rent control
extension and a $38 million famine relief bill for Yugoslavia. In the week before the
Christmas holidays, it completed work on an $18 billion defense supplemental
appropriations bill, the excess profits tax, and a civil defense program.
Efforts to obtain a vote on statehood for Alaska were abandoned after a week
of intermittent Senate debate on a motion to take up the measure. The 81st Congressnd
adjourned sine die on January 2, 1951, and the 82 Congress convened the next day.

83rd Congress, 2nd Session (1954)

Prior to the 1954 congressional election, the House adjourned sine die on
August 20, but the Senate recessed on that date and then reconvened on November
8. The Senate met for the sole purpose of considering the recommendation of a
select committee to censure Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for improprieties
committed in the course of his investigations into allegations of communist influence
in the federal government. Made over a period of more than five years, Senator
McCarthy’s allegations had eventually led to investigations of McCarthy himself, and
the Senate had assigned the issue to a select committee chaired by Senator Arthur V.
Watkins (R-UT). This lame duck session was the first time since passage of the 20th
Amendment that only one chamber returned to session after an election.
The Senate select committee submitted its censure resolution on November 9,
1954. The first count of the two-count resolution was approved on December 1, and
final action was completed the following day. Press reports speculated that the
Senate might consider matters other than the McCarthy censure resolution, including
a number of pending treaties and nominations, but the Senate took action only on the
McCarthy censure resolution and adjourned finally on December 2.

91st Congress, 2nd Session (1970-1971)

Congressional leaders called a post-election session in 1970 for the first time in
almost 20 years to complete action on a list of pending legislation, including electoral
reform, the Family Assistance Plan (the Nixon Administration’s principal welfare
reform proposal), occupational safety and health, equal rights for women, manpower
training, and funds for the supersonic transport plane (SST). Seven regular
appropriations bills also remained to be enacted. Congress convened the lame duck
session on November 16, 1970.
Congress stayed in session until January 2, 1971, less than 24 hours before thend
constitutional deadline of noon on January 3, when the 92 Congress convened. It
kept largely to the agenda the congressional leadership had set before the recess in
October, but failed to approve many administration proposals, including the Family
Assistance Plan. That bill, with other controversial measures, had been attached to
a Social Security bill in the Senate. The SST received only interim funding.
President Richard M. Nixon strongly criticized what he termed “major failures” of
the lame duck session.
Congress did complete work on two of the seven regular appropriations bills and
a measure dealing with foreign aid and foreign military sales. It also passed the
Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, which established deadlines for the reduction
of certain pollutants from new automobiles, and a major housing bill, which included
a new program of federal crime insurance and created the Community Development
President Nixon vetoed four measures during the lame duck session, including
a $9.5 billion federal manpower training and public service employment bill.
Congress did not override any of these vetoes.

93rd Congress, 2nd Session (1974)

Delayed in the consideration of major legislation by the extraordinary events of
1973 and 1974 — the Watergate investigations, the resignation of Vice President
Spiro T. Agnew, the nomination and confirmation of Gerald R. Ford to be Vice
President, and the resignation of President Nixon and succession of President Ford
— Congress reconvened on November 18, 1974, in an effort to clear a long list of
important items.
Although congressional leaders had indicated that only the most critical bills
would be considered, including approval of the nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller
to be Vice President, President Ford greeted the returning Congress with a 10-page
list of legislation he wanted passed before the session expired. In the end, Congress
did consider a wide range of issues before it adjourned on December 20, 1974, but
its actions were not always to President Ford’s liking.
The Rockefeller nomination was approved by mid-December, but Congress
overrode presidential vetoes of both a vocational rehabilitation bill and a measure
amending the Freedom of Information Act. Congress also approved, and the
President signed, a bill that nullified a prior agreement giving former President Nixon
control over the tapes and papers of his administration.
In other actions, Congress
! approved a long-delayed trade reform bill giving the President broad
authority to negotiate trade agreements, act on trade barriers, and
provide import relief to workers, industries, and communities;
!established a federal policy for research on development of non-
nuclear sources of energy; and
!cleared legislation making continuing appropriations for federal
agencies whose regular appropriations had not been enacted.

96th Congress, 2nd Session (1980)

In 1980, some observers contended that postponing final congressional action
on a lengthy agenda of major issues until a post-election session would accomplish
two goals: first, it would delay potentially difficult pre-election votes on budget
matters, and second, it would allow incumbents extra time to campaign. The large
Republican gains on election day were thought to complicate the prospects for a
productive lame duck program, however, especially with such important issues as
budget reconciliation, several major appropriations bills, and landmark
environmental legislation still left for consideration.
In fact, during the lame duck session, from November 12 to December 16, 1980,
Congress completed action on many of the issues that had been left unfinished in the
regular session, including the following:

!a budget resolution and a budget reconciliation measure;
!five regular appropriations bills, although one was subsequently
vetoed; a second continuing resolution was approved to continue
funding for other parts of the government;
!an Alaska lands bill and a “superfund” bill to help clean up chemical
!a measure extending general revenue sharing for three years;
!a measure that made disposal of low-level nuclear waste a state
responsibility; and
!changes to military pay and benefits, and authority for the President
to call 100,000 military reservists to active duty without declaring a
national emergency.

97th Congress, 2nd Session (1982)

In 1982, with urging from President Ronald W. Reagan, congressional leaders
called for the second session of the 97th Congress to reconvene after the
congressional election. The Senate met from November 30 to December 23, 1982,
and the House from November 30 to December 21. Congress recessed for the
election on October 1.
In calling for Congress to return, President Reagan expressed concern that only
three of 13 appropriations bills had been cleared for his signature at the time
Congress recessed. Dominated by economic concerns — particularly those related
to budget and deficit issues — the second session of the 97th Congress was notable
for the political tension between the Republican President and Senate, on the one
hand, and the Democratic House, on the other.
Congressional leaders indicated they would finish nine of 10 outstanding money
bills. But by the end of December, Congress had completed only four, and needed
to enact a large continuing resolution to fund remaining government operations for
FY1983. Concerned about recession and rising unemployment, House Democrats
added a $5.4 billion jobs program to the continuing resolution, but agreed to remove
it when the President threatened a veto.
The lame duck session was acrimonious in both chambers, but especially in the
Senate, where frequent filibusters caused some all night sessions. The Senate voted
on eight cloture motions in December. The most contentious filibuster came late in
the month over a measure to increase the gasoline tax. The measure was approved
just two days before Christmas.
In addition to completing work on some appropriations bills and the continuing
resolution, the House approved a controversial 15% pay raise for itself. An
immigration reform bill, favored by the White House and the congressional

leadership, stalled when opponents filed hundreds of amendments designed to slow
chamber action. The leadership was eventually forced to pull the bill from the floor.
In other decisions, Congress refused to fund production and procurement of the
first five MX intercontinental missiles, the first time in recent history that either
house of Congress had denied a President’s request to fund production of a strategic
weapon. Congress also passed a long-sought nuclear waste disposal bill.

103rd Congress, 2nd Session (1994)

In 1994, Congress recessed on October 8 and then reconvened on November 28
for the sole purpose of passing a bill implementing a new General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Although the bill received strong support in both
chambers during the regular session, opponents in the Senate had kept the measure
from reaching a vote on the floor. In the short lame duck session, the House passed
the bill on November 29 and the Senate on December 1. Both chambers then
adjourned sine die.

105th Congress, 2nd Session (1998)

In 1998, both the House and Senate adjourned sine die on October 21, 1998.
The adjournment resolution gave contingent authority not only to the bicameral
leadership to reconvene Congress, but also to the Speaker to reconvene the House.
This last authority was granted in anticipation of action to impeach President William
J. Clinton. The House convened on December 17, 1998, to consider a resolution of
impeachment (H.Res. 611). On December 19, the House adopted Articles I and III
of the resolution by votes of 228-206 and 221-212. It then, by a vote of 228-190,
adopted a resolution appointing and authorizing House managers for the Senate
impeachment trial. The House then adjourned sine die.
On December 17, 1998, the House agreed, as well, to a resolution expressing
support for the men and women engaged in a military action in the Persian Gulf.

106th Congress, 2nd Session (2000)

Because final action on several appropriations bills had not been completed,
Congress remained in session into the first days of November, the closest to an
election that it had worked since 1942. On November 3, Congress adopted
S.Con.Res. 160, authorizing recesses of the House until November 13 and the Senate
until November 14. When the two houses returned, with the presidential election
undecided, they approved a short-term continuing resolution and the District of
Columbia Appropriations Act, and then agreed to a further recess until December 5.
After reconvening on December 5, Congress agreed to a series of five short-term
continuing resolutions while final decisions on the remaining appropriations were
being negotiated. During this sequence of events, the Senate recessed on December
11 after providing, by unanimous consent, that when the fourth in this series of
continuing resolutions was received from the House, it would automatically be
deemed passed in the Senate. Finally, on December 15, both chambers completed

action on FY2001 appropriations measures by agreeing to the conference report on
the omnibus appropriations bill. Congress then adjourned sine die pursuant to
H.Con.Res. 446.
During the lame duck session, Congress also cleared the Presidential Threat
Protection Act, the Striped Bass Conservation Act, and the Intelligence Authorization
Act. It also sent President Clinton a bankruptcy reform measure, which the President
subsequently pocket vetoed.

107th Congress, 2nd Session (2002)

Congress met in intermittent or pro forma sessions during the pre-election
period in 2002, but returned to a full schedule of business on November 12 with two
priorities: finish work on 11 appropriations bills and consider creation of a
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a measure at the top of President George
W. Bush’s legislative agenda. A bill to create the DHS had passed the House in late
July, 2002, but the Senate did not act until after the election. The Senate passed a
similar version of the measure on November 19, and the House agreed to the Senate
amendment on November 22. President Bush signed the bill into law on November


Congress, however, was unable to resolve its appropriations differences. The
House passed the fifth in a series of continuing resolutions on November 13, and the
Senate agreed to the measure on November 19. This measure funded the government
at FY2002 levels through January 11, 2003. The Defense Appropriations bill and
Military Construction Appropriations bill were the only appropriations measures
completed by Congress in 2002.
In addition to the DHS, Congress completed action on, and the President signed
into law, several other significant measures, including the Defense Authorization
Act, the Intelligence Authorization Act, and measures regulating terrorism insurance
and seaport security. The Senate adjourned sine die on November 20 and the House
on November 22, 2002.

108th Congress, 2nd Session (2004)

A lame duck session was considered necessary in 2004 because many
appropriation bills had not yet even received Senate action and Congress had not
cleared an increase in the debt limit. Conferees also had reached no agreement over
legislation to consolidate intelligence activities under a new national director, as
recommended by the September 11 commission.
The post-election environment was viewed as favorable to action on an omnibus
appropriations measure, by facilitating adherence to caps on domestic discretionary
spending, on which the administration insisted, as well as the elimination of many
authorizing provisions. Congress initially cleared the measure on November 20, but,
because it subsequently had to direct corrections in the enrollment of the bill,
President Bush was able to sign it only on December 8, the day of the sine die
adjournment. Similarly, although Congress could reach no final agreement on a

congressional budget resolution, which would have advanced action to increase the
debt limit, post-election conditions enabled the increase to be enacted as a
freestanding measure.
During the lame duck period, the administration intensified efforts to persuade
House conferees on the intelligence bill to accept modifications in provisions to
maintain military control over its own intelligence, keep intelligence funding
confidential, and control immigration. The conference report cleared Congress on
December 8 and was signed into law on December 17.
Post-election conditions also permitted the resolution of conference deadlocks
over several other reauthorizations, including the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, a moratorium on internet taxation, and authority for satellite
television systems to carry network programming. The last of these was enacted as
one of the few legislative riders to be included in the omnibus appropriation bill.
Failure to resolve policy disagreements, however, doomed several other
reauthorizations, including the 1996 welfare reform and a highway bill, although the
latter had also been delayed by demands in the Senate for assurances about the role
to be played by minority conferees. Finally, a ban on assault weapons expired when
the House declined to act on a measure renewing it.