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July 11, 2017

'You Dingbats Can't Go Home Until You Do Your Job'

 

That’s the ultimatum a federal employee and longtime friend told me he thinks House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should deliver to their respective members. 

He’s referring to the fact that Congress can’t wait to get out of town for the August recess, regardless of whether there’s important unfinished business. 

And is there ever unfinished business! 

  • The Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort is stalled and may be dying before our very eyes; 

  • The debt ceiling is almost upon us once again; 

  • If any progress has been made on tax reform, the leadership is hiding it well; 

  • And very little progress has been made on the regular budget process, moving the 12 appropriations bills through their respective committees by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. 

And my friend isn’t alone in his frustration; several Republicans and Democrats are urging the same thing. Oh, as is the current president of the United States

If Ryan and McConnell were to inform members that they couldn’t leave until they finished at least some of those priorities, there’s a good chance they’d find a path to “yes.”  Remember the debt ceiling battle of 2011?  

By August, the debt ceiling was looming and Republicans, who had taken control of the House at the beginning of the year, were demanding spending cuts in exchange for a debt ceiling increase. 

A solution evaded both parties—until the end of July. The House voted on the legislation, including huge spending cuts, on August 1. The Senate passed the bill on August 2. 

And then they headed home.* 

That agreement, the Budget Control Act of 2011, completed under pressure, was some of Congress’s best work. It laid the groundwork for the budget “sequester,” which was responsible for some of the first real reductions in federal spending in decades.  

Sticking around in August isn’t unprecedented. Remember August 2008 when gasoline prices were hitting $4 a gallon? 

Then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recessed the House and Senate, but a number of Republicans stayed and assembled, chanting “Drill, baby, drill,” and claiming it was irresponsible to adjourn without passing legislation to allow offshore drilling.  

Too much remains to be done for Congress to adjourn. The rest of us occasionally have to work through our vacations; it’s time for Congress to do so also.

 

* The Legislative Reform Act of 1970 mandates an August recess, but it could be reduced.


 

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