When the Going Gets Tough … Take a Vacation

Congressional Quarterly, in its daily update last Friday, described what is next for Congress:

The House "is done for the next 10 days," having voted to take the next week off (Democrats, to their credit, wanted to cancel the recess for more budget talks). The Senate's "President's Day recess has begun; the next session where something might get done (emphasis added) starts at 2 on Monday, Feb. 25."

Ron Fournier is a veteran political journalist, having worked at The Associated Press in two stints (among other stops) before joining the National Journal. I've always respected his writing.

A short but powerful take from Fournier on the current state of Congress:

The amount of unfinished business is stunning: A vacancy atop the Pentagon’s chain of command, billions of dollars of haphazard budget cuts due soon to take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of jobless Americans. So what’s a Congress to do?

Take a vacation.

In Washington, it is politely called a 10-day “recess.” Lawmakers explain how hard they work at town halls and fundraisers back home. But their job is to legislate and to fix problems.

If you took 10 days off with critical work undone and deadlines threatening, how would your boss respond?


On the Clock in Congress

Congressional leaders are telling both senators and representatives two things — expect to be on the floor for longer periods of time and for more days. The simple reason: so many issues to debate and vote on — and so little time.

The "normal" Tuesday through Thursday vote schedule makes it easier for members to travel back to their districts and (sometimes) homes. It’s good for campaigning and touching base in their districts. If that is the main casualty of spending more time shaping and determining these important laws, so be it.

What’s on the schedule?

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) wants to pass at least two spending bills prior to the July 4 break. Those would be a separate war funding measure and a bill allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products
  • Reid says to expect roll call votes nearly every day in July and early August, leading up to the August recess. Health care legislation, more of the dozen appropriations bills and a defense authorization measure are likely among top items on that agenda
  • In the House, expect more votes in June and July than what took place during the first five months of the year. In 2007, more than 350 votes were cast during that period and all 12 appropriations bills were passed
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) notes that there will also be a closer watch on the clock, with roll call votes lasting closer to the more traditional 15 minutes. The machines have been left open 25 minutes or more recently to give members more time to return to the floor and cast their votes

Health care reform and climate change legislation are only two of the biggest issues Congress has faced in many years. Add in the consideration of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (don’t expect a vote before September) and the challenge grows deeper. It’s a chance for Congress to shine and reverse its negative image. Will it be up to the task?