If we could develop a productivity meter for the U.S. Congress, the needle would not move very high on the scale. Our elected representatives bring a whole new meaning to the term “slackers.” Our lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C., this week after taking a seven-week recess. Can you think of anyone else who gets a seven-week recess? And that’s just part of it.
The House will now be in session until September 30. Wow, nearly a whole month! Then they will adjourn until November 14, after the elections. Senators are scheduled to be in session during the fall a wee bit longer than the House, with the Senate's target pre-election adjournment date set for October 7. Senators will also return November 14 after the elections. For the entire year, the House is scheduled to be in session for a whopping 111 days. And while the Senate will be in session a little longer, the chamber is on pace to work the fewest number of days in 60 years.
Now don’t expect much to happen while our elected officials are actually in session. One big item on the agenda is the funding of the federal government. Remember this movie? Yes, the remake is back. If Congress doesn’t pass a stopgap funding bill, then we run out of money to operate the government come the end of September. You would think that would create a sense of urgency to get something done on that issue. Think again.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made clear last week that his party would not accept a continuing resolution to fund the government past 2016. That would force Congress to re-address the issue in a lame-duck session after the election and would shield the next president from having to negotiate funding the government early in his or her administration. That’s the same strategy Congress has taken the last two years: short-term funding to finish out the year, then a major omnibus bill in December to fund the government through the following September.
Other items you will hear Congress talking about in the remaining few weeks will include things like additional funding for fighting the Zika virus, gun control/safety (depending on your side of the issue) and criminal justice reform. Some of those issues actually have some bipartisan support. However, there will also be confrontational issues like the nomination of a Supreme Court justice, inquiries or hearings into Hillary Clinton’s emails and the connection between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, the payment of $400 million cash to Iran and the possible impeachment of the IRS commissioner.
Both parties will be trying to make political hay on various issues as we head into the final weeks before the national election. This is a time that seems to bring out the worst in our politicians and you will be hearing a lot of disparaging comments flying both ways as we head to November. But don’t bet on seeing a lot of legislation passed in the next few months. The phrase “all talk, no action” seems to fit our Congress to a tee.