Early exit: Congress departs, with too much left to be done
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Congress left Washington Wednesday and will be absent until Nov. 15 on what members call a "recess."
It hasn't been that long -- Sept. 13 -- since they returned to the capital from their Labor Day recess. The reason they left this time was to campaign for election; every House seat will be on the ballot, plus a third of the Senate.
In grade school, recess meant time to go to the playground and tussle with one's classmates until the bell rang. The bell may toll for some lawmakers if their job approval rating among the public -- running as low as 13 percent -- is reflected in the Nov. 2 elections.
They left without performing some of their most basic duties, like passing appropriations bills to fund the federal government. Congress avoided a shutdown only by approving a continuing resolution. Although the government's fiscal year ended Thursday, the House has passed two appropriations bills, leaving a dozen hanging, and the Senate has passed none.
The lawmakers put off a vote on whether to extend the Bush era tax cuts, avoiding a controversial issue before facing the voters. Continuing the cuts for well-to-do households, with incomes of $250,000 or more, would cost the nation $36 billion a year. While the Republicans have been worse than the Democrats in terms of obstruction, the Democrats, given their control of both chambers, were pivotal in allowing the recess. In so doing, they postponed the ethics trials of Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., perhaps staving off their defeats at the polls or embarrassment to the party.
If a child brought home a report card reflecting this Congress' level of performance, a parent would ground him and take away his cell phone. It's unclear how the electorate will judge these legislators, but it would not be astonishing if many of them had to use the extra two weeks' vacation they gave themselves after the Nov. 2 elections to look for new jobs.
First Published October 1, 2010 12:00 am