No-work Congress: Lawmakers leave for recess with their jobs not done

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Congress, led by the Senate, in what could be seen as an attempt to set a new level of irresponsibility, not only used a filibuster Thursday to block the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, it also departed Washington Friday for a 10-day recess with the $1 trillion-plus sequestration of government funds less than two weeks away.

"Recess" means vacation, back in the home district, not working, for most of America's 535 intrepid legislators, unless citizens would like to count grubbing for campaign money as work. Congress returns to work in Washington Feb. 25, four days before the budget cuts kick in.

The sequestration measure was passed by the two houses of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on the argument that the cuts in it were so drastic, and so unreasoning in the sense that they fall equally on the just and the unjust, civilian and military government services without reasonable differentiation, that the White House and Congress would have to reach agreement on them to forestall the ax falling March 1. That logic underestimated the folly and partisan recalcitrance of the parties concerned.

As usual, the American public gets to pay the price of Washington's lack of ability to reach consensus in the face of America's problems, in this case legitimate needs for services and the requirement to pay for them while managing the nation's rising debt. The fact that these people are taking a recess rather than addressing the spending-revenue problem is almost unbelievable.

The other problem, the Senate's inaction on Mr. Obama's nominee to head the Defense Department, in charge of the nation's defense, is of a lesser magnitude, but also irresponsible. The Senate's failure to reform itself on filibusters at the beginning of this session, the fault of both Democrats and Republicans, meant that on Thursday a 58-40 vote was not considered to be a majority of the senators, in defiance of grade school arithmetic as well as logic. A final vote on Mr. Hagel's nomination will now have to wait until the senators come back to class after their time out on the playground. This action on the part of Senate Republicans makes it clear that their goal, without regard to November's election results, is to make it as difficult as possible for Mr. Obama to lead America.

Again, in the case of Mr. Hagel as well as the sequester, it is the American public who will pay the price for Congress' irresponsibility. How long are they going to act like this?

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