By Sioux City Journal
Since nothing much of substance was happening in dysfunctional Washington, D.C., anyway, many Americans may not even be aware Congress is on vacation this month.
All month. Until Sept. 9.
In fact, this break represents just a portion of the 239 days off built into the congressional calendar for 2013. That leaves 126 days for work, in case you are counting.
Members will say the summer time off is a working vacation during which they will attend to many, varied and important constituent responsibilities back home.
Well, OK, but it’s still a significant chunk of time away from the office and the capital at a critical period when plenty of unfinished business awaits action and the window of time in which much of it needs to get done is closing quickly.
Americans might reasonably ask: Do members of Congress need this much time off every year? Given the volume of pressing work, should members at least have dramatically shortened the summer recess this year? (A Fox News poll released last week showed 82 percent of voters don’t believe Congress deserved to take all of August off.)
Here’s a brief review of the unproductive 113th Congress in its first seven months (the House did pass a 40th futile attempt to repeal Obamacare … but we digress): No annual spending bills have passed and the House and Senate remain deeply divided over spending levels; an Oct. 1 government shutdown looms. No agreement on raising the government’s statutory borrowing limit has been reached; the risk of federal debt default in early November looms. No farm bill. No decision on nutrition assistance, which the House removed from its farm bill, but the Senate didn’t. No immigration reform bill.
You get the picture.
As we have said before in this space, deeply partisan, divided Washington today seems more interested in who will get credit and who will get blame, in how to make the other side look bad, in how to win re-election and in how to regain or retain control of a chamber than in what serves the greater good of the country.
In fact, if recent voting patterns are a guide, the 113th Congress could be among the most polarized in our nation’s history, according to a biannual assessment of the legislative branch. The report, a collaboration of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute called “Vital Statistics on Congress,” was released last month.
What members need to be reminded of from time to time is the fact they work for us, all of us. For that reason, they would have been well-advised to stay in Washington and keep working on their differences this month rather than throw up their hands and scatter for the hills. The heavy lifting only will get heavier when they finally return.
So today we again join in the frustration across America (in a poll last month, Gallup measured the approval rating of Americans for the work of Congress at 15 percent; the disapproval rating was 78 percent) over lack of action on the heaping plateful of challenges our nation faces.
One more thought …
Members of Congress often summon their fellow Americans to appear before them and answer questions. Impassioned, accusatory speeches fill hearing rooms in a diversity of matters, accompanied by stern scowls of disapproval and concern, righteous indignation and demands to know who, what, why, when and where – or else.
What we would like to see is a hearing convened by American citizens on the conduct of our Congress. House and Senate leaders would sit alongside one another below a panel of average men and women who would vent their anger and frustration and demand to know how political gamesmanship and intransigence help our nation solve problems.
That’s something we actually would pay to watch on C-SPAN.