To-do list: Congress skips town with too much unfinished
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Congress departed Washington last week for a five-week recess, leaving undone an enormous pile of work, including critical bills to provide farmers and ranchers relief from the widespread drought and to protect the nation's infrastructure from cyberattack.
They will return in September, but estimates are that the lawmakers will be back for only 13 session days before the Nov. 6 elections. When they are not in Washington they will presumably be traveling, attending conventions or in their districts campaigning to be re-elected and collecting contributions. Some of that money will be spent on their races this year, some will be passed along to other candidates' campaigns and some will be kept by the recipients for future use.
Other matters that Congress left unfinished include the future of the Bush tax cuts and of the United States Postal Service, in dire financial straits, and the domestic violence bill. Congress has also passed no appropriations bills, the bread and butter of keeping the government running, although leaders in the House and Senate reportedly struck a deal last week to keep programs funded for another six months.
The wrangle among Republicans and between Republicans and Democrats preventing action on the farm bill turns largely on food stamps, which at $400 billion constitute 80 percent of the bill's cost. Republicans generally agree on cutting the program's funding, but some want to cut it more deeply than others to help reduce overall spending. Democrats will not agree to the deeper cuts, and Republicans can't pass the bill in the Senate without Democratic support.
In the meantime, while the farm bill is held up, half the counties in the nation are eligible for federal disaster relief in the face of the drought. The parched conditions have resulted not only in crop and livestock damage, but also in destructive wildfires in Colorado, California and Oklahoma.
The cybersecurity legislation would respond to a serious potential danger. The bill's objective is to reduce the vulnerability of the nation's power grids, dams and transportation infrastructure to a computer-based attack. Unfortunately, the proposal has been severely watered down, in part at the behest of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., acting as the representative of companies which consider the bill's requirements too burdensome.
How members of Congress can come to the voters asking to be re-elected without having carried out this vital work is remarkable, disgusting and a clear invitation to be turned out of office. Some of the paralysis is due to partisan wrangling and some is due to just plain irresponsibility and an unwillingness to work together to do the people's business.
First Published August 8, 2012 12:00 am