Members of Congress are taking a five-week summer break, but it’s doubtful most of us will even notice. Despite the fact that the U.S. is still a nation in crisis, partisan political gridlock has prevented legislators from doing the jobs they were elected to do: make laws.
Members of Congress are taking a five-week summer break, but it’s doubtful most of us will even notice.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is still a nation in crisis, partisan political gridlock has prevented legislators from doing the jobs they were elected to do: make laws.
In fact, in the past 19 months, just 151 laws have been enacted by the 112th Congress. Sadly, that tally includes lightweight legislation, such as renaming courthouses and post offices or adding board members of institutions, such as the Smithsonian.
It’s a far cry from the previous Congress, which enacted 383 laws — more than double the number of the current crop of lawmakers.
Some would argue that the 111th Congress had an easier time because Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate and President Barack Obama was in office.
It isn’t that simple, however. During the 2007-08 session, when Republican George Bush was president and Congress was in the hands of Democrats, 460 laws were enacted.
So what’s the difference? It’s hard not to notice that congressional productivity came to a screeching halt after the tea party came to Capitol Hill. Many members of the movement seem perfectly content to play the role of obstructionists, stubbornly refusing any form of compromise regardless of the consequences for the country.
One need not look far for a prime example. In the midst of the most devastating drought in decades, the tea party-dominated House left for vacation while a five-year farm bill — passed with broad bipartisan support by the Senate in June — languished, leaving farmers and ranchers without the emergency aid so many desperately need.
That all-or-nothing mentality seems to be contagious. In the Senate, a bipartisan cybersecurity bill that was to provide protection of critical infrastructure systems fell victim to a GOP filibuster.
After the vote, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, who co-sponsored the bill with Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, “This is a moment of disappointment that I really cannot conceal. But the threat of cyberattack is so real, so urgent and so clearly growing that I am not going to be petulant about this.”
When such important matters can’t even bring lawmakers together, is it any wonder that a recent poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News finds 79 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing?
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Once legislators return from their latest break (they already had nine full weeks off this year) in September, they will again have to take up the issues of farming subsidies and food stamps.
Even more important for much of the country will be the debate about how to avoid falling off the much-discussed “fiscal cliff” that awaits America at year’s end, should lawmakers fail to find a way to agree on a six-month spending bill to avert a possible government shutdown — and avoid about $110 billion in automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs. Of course, the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire Dec. 31, so that will also play a prominent role in the fiscal showdown headed for Capitol Hill this fall.
I certainly hope lawmakers come back well-rested from their five-week break, as they will have just 13 working days to hammer out details before they adjourn for the elections. If not, perhaps voters can take a stand and send those who stand in the way of progress on a more permanent vacation.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at email@example.com.