Lean agenda / The U.S. House begins 2014 with little ambition

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Congress returned to Washington Monday with the House of Representatives apparently intent on doing little before the midterm elections later this year.

The House broke for the holidays on Dec. 13, more than three weeks ago, and it anticipates working fewer than a hundred days before adjourning in early October to campaign for the November election. The theory of doing little in 2014, emulating the record- low number of bills passed in 2013, is that members could run on their records as they stand without marring them with votes on controversial new legislation.

The irony of this do-nothing position is that normally when employees — in this case, federal lawmakers — are approaching a performance review — elections — by their employers — the taxpayers — they work hard to demonstrate their usefulness to the organization, in this case the country. But the Republican House leadership, based on its lean and unambitious calendar, seems to assume that, absent some overwhelming reason not to, voters will choose to keep their current member in office.

Yet there is a long list of issues which this Congress — House and Senate — must address.

President Barack Obama says his highest priority, in light of continuing high unemployment and unpromising job prospects, is extending benefits to the long-term jobless by at least another three months. Another issue is reducing the impact of growing poverty and the income gap between rich and poor by raising the minimum wage.

Other critical items include immigration reform; the debt ceiling, which looms again in March; the need for funding for education to address unemployment and poverty; and tax reform. The passage of a new farm bill, important to both American farmers and people who depend on food stamps, is also urgent, having been kicked down the road in the first half of this session.

The members of Congress should be judged by voters in November on the basis of their achievements this year in addressing the country’s priorities, not by their ability to avoid action when the chips are down and re-election is on.

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