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Deeply unpopular and flagrantly unproductive, Congress is on its August recess right now. It won’t return until Sept. 9, after a five-week recess, leaving itself just a few days to settle issues such as raising the debt ceiling and passing a federal budget. Here are some things you should know about where it stands at this stage of the game:
The repeal of Obamacare, action on climate change, a “grand bargain” on our fiscal problems, education and tax reform, creating jobs, strengthening gun laws ... the list of dropped balls is long, although there still is hope for immigration reform, if just barely. A few weeks ago Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Americans not to judge Congress by how many laws it passes, but by how many it repeals. It hasn’t succeeded on either count.
None of the appropriations bills needed for the government to continue running after Sept. 30 has been enacted. “It is common for Congress to leave big budget fights until the last minute,” the Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook wrote as Congress left town, “but the budgeting process now seems so adrift that even congressional veterans find it hard to see a resolution.”
Passing a budget is the most basic function of government, and Congress can’t manage it.
A glimmer of hope does exist, as more members respond to polls showing Americans believe it’s more important for the parties to compromise than to stick to their positions. They might not be able to come to agreement, but some of them are talking about how willing they are to reach across the aisle.
They’ve become quite skilled at running against Washington, even though they are Washington. And they count on the fact that few voters hold their own member of Congress responsible for its shortcomings, however unpopular Congress as a whole has become.
They rain cash, twist arms, and even draft bills — all the things that powerful congressional leaders used to do. The NRA’s defeat of legislation strengthening background checks for gun purchases, in the face of overwhelming public sentiment after Newtown, was nothing less than an impressive display of political clout and an example of how influential lobbyists and special interests have become.
Perhaps this is why a number of my former colleagues have made a tidy living by becoming lobbyists.
Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. A former Columbus attorney, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
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