The 113th, mostly “do nothing,” Congress is in recess, the House of Representatives until Dec. 2 and the Senate until Dec. 9, with an overwhelming list of work still to be completed.
It is hard to say what part of the unfinished work is the most important. The farm bill has to be high on the list. It expires at the end of December. Not only does it deal with U.S. agricultural production for the next five years, but it will also govern the fate of increasingly needed food stamps. As the economy continues its slump, more and more Americans — an estimated 22 percent of them children — depend on the program to eat. Yet the Democratic-led Senate wants to cut $4.5 billion from food stamps and the Republican-led House $40 billion.
Budget talks between the two chambers are supposed to be concluded by mid-December. House and Senate schedules in Washington will overlap by only a week, Dec. 10-13, making it increasingly difficult to reach an agreement that would stave off further budget sequestration.
House action on immigration reform legislation, passed by the Senate in June, has been ruled out before the end of the year by Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. Nothing has happened on a promised tax code overhaul bill. The first anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., slaughter of schoolchildren has passed with no new gun control action. Work on developing a revised American energy strategy, reflecting changes in the country’s circumstances, including the new role of natural gas and consequent drop in oil imports, has gone nowhere.
Instead, Americans can expect Republicans in Congress to continue to fight President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and to seek to neuter the agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry reached, along with the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, with Iran to bring its nuclear program under control.
The members’ seeming lack of concern that the public will deplore their lack of action on matters of crucial importance with mid-term congressional elections scheduled for next year is astonishing. These last few weeks will give them a chance to improve their record. They should take advantage of the time remaining on the clock to act.