Even for this do-nothing Congress, this is appalling. After a five-week summer vacation, the honorables spent barely a week at work before heading home again – this time until after the November election.
From their perspective, that may be their most important task – to get re-elected, though most are running for relatively safe seats. That makes it even more important for constituents to show up at town halls to ask tough questions and hold members of Congress accountable. Too often, these events become promotional campaign appearances.
California’s representatives will be out and about in the coming weeks. For instance, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera is holding a small-business workshop Wednesday at Elk Grove City Hall. Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento is holding a forum Wednesday at the state Capitol on “net neutrality,” followed by a Thursday event at McClellan Park on women in business.
This session, Matsui can at least claim credit for helping break the logjam on federal funding to finish the levees protecting Natomas.
But for many members of Congress, if they tell voters how hard they’re working, they’ll be stretching the truth, to put it charitably.
The current recess means that between Aug. 1 and Nov. 12, the Republican-led House will be in session a grand total of 10 days. That’s shameful given the state of our nation and world.
Before wrapping up last Thursday, the House did the bare essentials – approving President Barack Obama’s request to arm Syrian rebels to help fight the Islamic State and passing a funding resolution to avoid another damaging federal government shutdown.
The Democratic-majority Senate followed suit in skipping town. The two parties’ leaders blame each other for blocking measures passed by the other chamber. What Americans see is partisan gridlock getting in the way of help they need.
The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in 60 years, with barely 160 pieces of legislation enacted so far – about 120 fewer than the previous Congress at the same point and 220 fewer than the one before that. It’s not a perfect measure – it’s worse for Congress to pass bad laws than none at all – but it’s an indicator of how historically lax our lawmakers have been.
While it’s no surprise that Congress hasn’t taken up immigration reform, there’s a long list of other pressing issues put off until after the election: tax reform, domestic surveillance, minimum wage, defense policy, foreign trade, and the care of mentally ill people, just to name a few.
Is it any wonder that Obama has resorted to executive actions to get things done? House Republicans, of course, did find the time and energy to sue the president.
Indeed, the stalemate in Washington, D.C., is fine with many Republicans, who hope to take control of the Senate and keep a majority in the House on Nov. 4.
The only potential upside is that in a lame-duck session – without re-election to worry about – members of Congress might do what’s best for the country. Given their recent track record, however, that’s probably too much to ask.