Congress has returned to work after a seven-week recess, but with another recess on the horizon, the question is whether lawmakers will continue to treat work as a four-letter word. Before long, representatives and senators will return home to campaign for re-election, and they could help their prospects by accomplishing something of note over the next month.
As recent history demonstrates, this might be a Pollyannaish expectation; it is not unreasonable to suggest that Congress has been missing in action for two terms now. Part of that is due to having a Democrat in the White House while Republicans control both chambers of Congress; some gridlock is to be expected. But it is worth noting that the current Congress has passed 219 laws, while the 106th Congress — with Republicans in charge during the final two years of the Clinton administration — managed to pass 604 laws.
Some pundits will say that a moribund Congress is best for the nation. But that merely ignores the pressing issues that require attention.
For example, there is the Zika virus, which causes severe birth defects. In May, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., helped broker a bipartisan deal to provide funding for developing a vaccine to combat the virus, and the proposal passed the Senate. House Republicans, however, created their own bill that included a cut in funding to a 45-year-old birth-control program, along with cuts to efforts for preventing teen pregnancies.
The result has been dangerous, moving toward catastrophic. With Congress on recess, Zika continued its spread in parts of the United States, and mosquitoes carrying the virus have been found in this country. During its brief reappearance in Washington, D.C., this month, Congress should pass the Senate’s bill and get American scientists busy fighting a dangerous and growing disease.
For another example, Congress must pass a spending bill by Sept. 30 in order to keep the government functioning. While some legislators view government shutdowns as a matter of earning their merit badge for dogma, the fact is that the American people need a government that works for them. Continually holding the budget hostage and flirting with shutdowns in the name of extremism is no way to run a country.
Congress is likely to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running, but the question is how long that spending will be in place. Conservatives want it extended until 2017, leaving the difficult debates to a new president and a new Congress. Democrats favor a short-term solution to keep the government running until shortly after the election.
Meanwhile, Congress also should address the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement involving the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. The deal would be benefit Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state, but it faces stern opposition. Both major presidential candidates say they oppose the partnership, which has strong support from President Obama. That likely leaves only a matter of months for Congress to provide its stamp of approval.
For lawmakers who have been elected to do the business of the people, there are other pressing issues, as well. Which makes the Tuesday afternoon cable news headlines all the more disappointing: “House Republicans seek to reopen Clinton email case.” Surely, Congress has more important tasks before taking another vacation.