What is a lame duck session?

December 10, 2014

The 113th Congress is in its final days. Its constitutionally mandated term of two years is nearly concluded. Currently, each new Congress begins on or about January 3 after a congressional election, and lasts for two years, which is divided into a first and second session. If a Congress meets after a congressional election, but prior to the beginning of a new Congress, it is called a lame duck session. Technically, the lame duck session is not a new session of Congress, but rather a continuation of the second session of the Congress. The current lame duck session is a continuation of the second session of the 113th Congress, which began in January 2014.

While historically rare, there have been lame duck sessions at the end of every Congress in recent times. Since 1933, when the current date for starting a new Congress was established by the 20th Amendment, there have been 20 lame duck sessions. Between 1933 and 1998, there were only 12 lame duck sessions during 34 Congresses. Since then, however, all eight Congresses, starting with the 106th Congress in 2000, have held lame duck sessions.

What happens during lame duck sessions?

Earlier in this period, these sessions were principally about extraordinary issues, like war or impeachment, but more recently, they have been dominated by budgetary issues. As Congress has become more divided politically, it has become more difficult for a majority in both chambers to resolve policy differences and pass legislation related to spending priorities during regular sessions of the Congress. Seven of the eight Congresses since the 106th Congress in 2000 have had to meet in lame duck sessions to pass some kind of spending provision to keep the government funded.

Under normal circumstances, spending provisions are passed in the form of appropriations bills. Currently, Congress divides spending for government funding into 12 appropriations bills, each dealing with different governmental functions, like defense and agriculture. However, ideological gridlock has made it nearly impossible for the parties to agree on these appropriations and pass them. Eventually, Congress must pass some kind of spending provision during its term or the government is forced to shut down due to lack of funding. In order to avoid this, Congress passes a continuing resolution that simply empowers the government to continue to spend funds sometime into the incoming Congress. This has occurred during the lame duck session of every Congress since 2000 except for the 112th Congress in 2012. The only reason the 112th Congress didn’t deal with this in the lame duck session is because they passed their continuing resolution prior to the start of the lame duck.

In addition, because Congress is in session during the lame duck, it can also conduct other business if it so chooses. For example, it can pass legislation and approve nominees for federal office. This is especially important because once a Congress is adjourned, all its unfinished work resets to zero, and must go through the entire process all over again in the new Congress to pass, including reintroduction of bills for consideration, hearings, and committee approvals. Congress can also use this last opportunity to vote on presidential nominees for federal offices, like ambassadors and agency heads. For example, the Senate has already confirmed numerous ambassadors during the current lame duck session.

During these lame duck sessions, both houses of Congress also vote on their leadership for the incoming Congress, like Speaker of the House and majority and minority party leaders. They also elect their committee chairmen. These votes do not occur within the context of legislative sessions but are business conducted by the newly elected members of Congress within their parties while they are gathered together in Washington. The majority parties in both the House and Senate also use this time to create their respective calendars for the incoming Congress. These calendars typically mirror each other, but not exactly, especially when the majority party is not the same in each chamber.

How does the ERLC engage with Congress?

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission engages with Congress during these lame duck sessions in the same way we do so during the rest of the year. However, given the urgency created by the loss of progress on bills when a Congress adjourns, we attempt to focus more energy on bills of interest to us that are far enough along in the process and have adequate bipartisan support to possibly pass. So, for example, we are asking members of Congress to pass the Second Chance Reauthorization Act in this lame duck session. This bill provides funding for both secular and religious groups that help men and women coming out of prison obtain the necessary skills and training they need to break the cycle of criminality in their lives. We believe these men and women should get every chance our country can provide to reclaim their lives.

Another important matter Congress should address is the protection of religious freedom around the world. The lame duck session provides the 113th Congress one last opportunity to approve a couple important priorities here. First, we are working to ensure the reauthorization of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This quasi-federal commission monitors religious freedom around the world and provides crucial information and counsel to the government to help protect and secure religious freedom in such countries as China, Iraq, and Pakistan, for example. Without action by December 11, the Commission will be forced to shut down due to lack of approved funding. Second, we are asking Congress to approve the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. Rabbi Saperstein has a stellar reputation for unbiased advocacy for international religious freedom. He has bipartisan support in the Senate as well. You can read more about Rabbi Saperstein in this article.

We are also working to make sure pro-life protections are included in various appropriations bills. These protections, known as “riders,” are amendments added to the appropriations bills every year that prevent government agencies from spending federal money on activities that are contrary to a pro-life ethic. For example, the Hyde Amendment blocks the use of federal dollars for elective abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s life. There are more than a dozen other riders that also address various aspects of the pro-life ethic. We believe government has a responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The unborn certainly qualify.

Clearly, the lame duck session is a crucial part of the work of Congress. In fact, it provides a last opportunity for the Congress to fulfill its obligations under the Constitution and to those who elected its members. We are working to assist the members to finish well. We are also praying for them. The ideological differences that keep these elected men and women apart are at times insurmountable from a human perspective. But God is able to help where humans cannot. We ask that all God’s people join us in prayer for the 113th Congress as they finish their term. Their work matters.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24