Nel's New Day

September 18, 2014

Congress Went Home–for Two Months

Congressional conservatives are fond of dividing people into the makers and the takers—those who make the money and all those other great unwashed who just take, according to GOP legislators. The next time that you hear just one of the entitled congressional members bring up this accusation, remember today, September 18, 2014. That’s the day that Congress, having put in eight days of work after five weeks of vacation, went home. And they went home for 54 more days. They won’t be back until after elections. There is also an indication that they’ll spend only four days in Washington before leaving again until the end of the year. If that is accurate, it mean means that they get $174,000 annual salary and spend 12 days in session for one-third of the year.

During their eight days this month, Congressional members passed the continuing resolution for keep the country funded until December 11. They also kept the Export-Import Bank alive through June 2015. Folded within the CR without a full debate was an amendment to permit President Obama to arm and train Syrian “moderates” that passed the House by 273 to 156 and the Senate by 78 to 22. Congress saw a bipartisan opposition: in the House, 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats voted against the amendment, and in the Senate, 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no.

With no direction from Congress, the president maintains that he can escalate military action against ISIL under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress authorized after George W. Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Some lawmakers disagree, arguing that Congress should weigh in, at least to show their position regarding war. Debating war, however, might be awkward for some of those running for re-election; thus, they just went home.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is one legislator opposed to Congress withdrawing from Washington. “I find it an act of cowardice, but not astonishing,” he said. Of course, he’s not up for re-election this year. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is running, but she’s also outspoken. “Is it embarrassing? Yes. It’s an election year. Self-preservation trumps national security.”

This year’s election isn’t the only reason that legislators are running away. Iraqi problems have continued for over 13 years after George W. Bush declared “Mission accomplished.” There’s no way that it will be nicely wrapped up by the presidential election in 2016. If GOP members of Congress can force all the decisions onto the president, he and his party will take the fall for anything that goes wrong. Republicans can blame President Obama for doing nothing or doing anything they don’t like—and they don’t like anything that President Obama does.

As Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said:

“It’s easier to be on the sidelines and, you know, if everything goes well, to say, ‘I was always with you.’ If not, you can say, ‘Whoa, you blew it.’ The fact that we’re all taking great pains to do the absolute minimum to avoid an authorization … is not only not doing our job, it’s cowardice.”

When asked about staying for a debate about the problem with ISIL, others disagreed with the congressional members’ departure.

“I think we should complete discussions on this now. Absolutely,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “This is what we’re paid to do.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), also not running, said, “Why wouldn’t you vote? Either you’re for it or against it, and if you can’t defend either being for it or against it, you don’t have any business being here in the first place.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the floor:

“And here, the Congress of the United States is going to adjourn in the middle of September? And, as I calculate, starting tomorrow, it’s 55 days until we would return? We need to be talking about war and peace. We need to be talking about the Congress exercising its constitutional authority to give the authority to the president for this long-term engagement.”

The question of war came up in the passage of the amendment to arm and train Syrians. “Just how steep is the slippery slope we are embarking upon? How long will the conflict last? Is there an exit strategy? What does victory look like? How much will it cost? How many U.S. lives will be lost?” asked Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

With long recesses and short list of accomplishments, the 113th Congress currently has a 14-percent approval rating. Barrett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor said:

“Who had expectations that this Congress would do any better than this? They want to be on record as doing something, but they want to leave as few fingerprints as possible. These are far from profiles in courage here.”

The following chart shows how little the current Congress has worked—even before it took off for the next few months.

bills passed by congress

Both congressional chambers had been scheduled for a four-day work week next week before leaving town. The House had previously announced that it would stay in session to vote on “jobs bills” and measures to boost domestic energy all ready for the floor, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stated that immigration reform would help the economy. Yet he refuses to bring anything to the House floor. Everyone knows that the GOP definition of jobs bills is anything that cuts taxes for the wealthy, but the House won’t even make that attempt.

As congressional members wend their way back to their homes across the nation, remember that those who used to be the makers of laws are now only the takers of campaign contributions.

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