Congress and its unearned vacation

08/08/2014 2:54 PM

08/08/2014 3:13 PM

Don’t be surprised if you bump into a member of the local congressional delegation during the next few weeks. It could happen at a coffee shop or golf course, though more likely at a town hall meeting or fundraiser. Congress is on summer vacation.

When Congress gaveled into recess last week, the usual joking and outrage ensued. There they go, heading home and to points unknown for five weeks while important business remains. Nice work if you can get it.

Congress did accomplish a few things before it turned out the lights.

In the final weeks of work before vacation, both chambers passed a law that clarifies that Americans may unlock their cellphones and switch providers. That’s a good policy that returns power to consumers. When people buy a phone outright or complete a two-year contract, they ought to be able to use whatever provider offers the best combination of price and service. President Barack Obama even signed the bill.

The House and Senate also passed a temporary highway-funding patch hours before money to the states would have been cut off, reforms to the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs that address some of the worst failures and aid to Israel.

Those were all low-hanging fruit. Congress remains incapable of action on the substantive issues confronting America.

The growing youth crisis at the southern border remains unsolved. Republicans in the House rammed through a bill, but it has no chance of getting through the Senate let alone the president.

The Senate didn’t even manage to pass a bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to shield Democrats in tough re-election races from casting a controversial vote for a bill that would have died in the House anyway.

Then there are all of the long-term challenges that Congress won’t confront in any serious way:

Comprehensive immigration falls victim to bitter partisanship and the GOP internal schism.

Budget bills merely trickle through the House. It has passed only about half of the ones it is supposed to, but even they only gather dust in the Senate.

The American West is literally on fire, but Congress cannot agree on funding to fight the blazes.

Many of the president’s nominees to be judges and ambassadors remain in limbo.

The anemic list of accomplishments has this Congress on pace to be the least productive in modern history, breaking the record set just two years ago. In a year and a half, it has passed only 142 bills.

Washington should not write laws just for the sake of writing laws, of course, but with so many critical issues unaddressed, this low volume points to dysfunction, not legislative frugality.

Maybe, then, a vacation is just what representatives and senators need. A few weeks away from work might refresh and re-energize them. They can return after Labor Day ready to tackle tough problems with cooperation and wisdom.

Don’t bet on it. It’s a midterm election year. Posturing and partisanship will remain the order of the day.

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