Even for this do-nothing Congress, this is disheartening. 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 might 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 their representatives accountable. During election years, these too often become campaign appearances.
California’s representatives will be out and about in the coming weeks. For instance, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, will be at The Modesto Bee on Wednesday for a face-to-face candidate forum with Democratic challenger Michael Eggman of Turlock. Columnist Jeff Jardine will be tweeting from the session, which starts at 1 p.m.
Denham has worked fruitlessly to get immigration reform passed. We’re eager to hear about that and other issues. We say issues because we don’t know what in the way of “accomplishments” this Congress can show.
The current recess means that from Aug. 1 through Nov. 12, the Republican-led House will be in session a grand total of 10 days.
Before wrapping up last Thursday, the House approved President Barack Obama’s request to arm Syrian rebels to help fight the Islamic State and passed a funding resolution to avoid another damaging federal government shutdown. The Democratic-majority Senate followed suit in skipping town.
Leaders of each party 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 – 120 fewer than the previous Congress at the same point and 220 fewer than the one before that.
Just counting the number of bills passed by any specific Congress is decidedly not a perfect measure – it’s worse to pass bad laws than none at all. But it is an indicator of futility.
While we’re disappointed Congress failed to take up immigration reform – despite Denham’s efforts – there’s a long list of other pressing issues put off until after the election: tax reform, domestic surveillance, minimum wage, climate change and foreign trade, to name just a few. It makes it hard to blame President Barack Obama for resorting to a relatively few executive actions (182 compared to 291 for George W. Bush, 364 for Bill Clinton, 166 for one-term president George H.W. Bush) to get things done. And even that has resulted in a lawsuit against the president.
The stalemate in Washington, D.C., is fine with many Republicans, who hope to take control of the House and Senate on Nov. 4. Truly, we believe the nation would have been more impressed had Congress managed to get more done.
The only potential upside is that in a lame-duck session – without re-election to worry about – members of Congress might try to do what’s best for the country. Given their recent track record, however, that’s probably too much to ask.