Congress finally managed to pass legislation late last week to keep the government running after the final day of the fiscal year — Sunday. But not much else.
The large backlog of work speaks to the gridlock that has largely paralyzed the legislative branch this year: Numerous appropriation bills, drought relief, farm programs, Postal Service reform, Medicare billing rates for physicians and many other initiatives have been left waiting.
And, of course, there’s the “fiscal cliff” approaching at year’s end, as automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 threaten the already-fragile economy.
Moody’s Investors Service even recently warned that it would probably downgrade the U.S. government’s “AAA” credit rating if federal budget negotiations fail.
So what did members of Congress do after the Senate approved that stopgap budget deal early Saturday morning?
They went back into recess — Congress’ earliest pre-election departure since 1960.
Yes, congressional progress generally is limited during election years. But in this sorry session, not only did little serious legislative work get finished, little serious legislative work got started.
Predictably, Republicans blame Democrats and vice versa. President Barack Obama even referred with disdain to the “Republican Congress” on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last weekend — though Congress includes both the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The House did approve the “No More Solyndras Act,” designed to reap continuing campaign capital over the debacle of that California-based solar power company that went bankrupt last year despite being bankrolled by $527 million in federally guaranteed loans.
The Obama administration supported that taxpayer largesse for the politically connected company despite ample warnings about its shaky status. The House bill would eliminate similar loan guarantees for other alternative energy programs such as solar and wind.
Yet there remains zero chance the bill will go anywhere in that Democratic-run Senate this year. Thus, the practical effect of the House measure has been to generate political energy. The House’s “Stop the War on Coal Act,” passed last week, was a similar exercise in legislative futility.
Oh well, at least bipartisanship prevailed two weeks ago when the Senate passed — by unanimous consent — a resolution making Sept. 22 National Falls Prevention Awareness Day.
Meanwhile, though, Congress appears to have lost interest in far more pressing matters — including the fact that the U.S. Postal Service is losing $25 million a day.
So this session’s record isn’t much for House or Senate incumbents to run on.
Then again, considering some of the costly bills federal lawmakers have imposed on Americans in recent years, maybe our nation is better off with them staying outside the Beltway until after Election Day.