As we step into September, Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., after a five-week recess. While Congress has not been inactive, the overwhelming majority of action taken in both the House and Senate has been largely symbolic because of political posturing and the refusal to vote on legislation passed by the opposite party. As a result, September is promising to be very busy, particularly because Congressional leaders left Washington with a great deal of unfinished business.
Among the major issues that Congress failed to resolve was government spending, the epitome of Congressional impasse. Congress still has not passed a budget in five years. The failure to pass THUD (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill) in both Houses before the August recess emphasizes the problem and hints at another budgetary standoff in September at the end of the fiscal year. Since Congress was unable to pass comprehensive government funding, it’s likely to adopt a Continuing Resolution (again) to fund the government after Oct. 1.
Congressional rhetoric repeatedly asserts that it is imperative to aid the struggling economy, yet both chambers have been incapable of passing any legislation that could pass the opposite chamber to tackle these issues. Looming issues include tax reform, the debt ceiling, water infrastructure authorization and appropriations and a reauthorized Farm Bill, just to name a few. There is no shortage of issues Congress could tackle, but instead, our elected leaders prioritize a political narrative over substantive action.
However, Congress has not been entirely inactive. Both chambers have passed more than a few of the annual appropriations bills. The Senate passed its version of WRDA on May 1, 2013. Numerous reports indicate the House is nearly finished with its own version and is hoping to mark up the bill as soon as Congress is back in session, giving optimism for completion. The House did pass a farm bill to reauthorize farm programs and food protections, but the Senate is unlikely to take action on the measure.
But not all Congressional actions have equally favorable implications. The Senate spent the week prior to the August recess debating presidential appointments. The Republican-controlled House dedicated the last week before the August recess to restoring trust in the government and labeled it “Stop Government Abuse Week.” Although a bold title, its implications are largely symbolic rather than measurable.
Explaining the key sentiment of the theme, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said, “We are not going to let executive agencies go wild and go unchecked. And even if we can’t get the Senate to act, and even if the President won’t sign them, we have told the American people that the House of Representatives stands for good, responsible, transparent government.”
The House Representatives had several bills on their plate, all crusading against bureaucracy and regulations. The House passed two bills designed to tame the multitude of regulations pouring on families and businesses from a myriad of federal agencies. One of the bills, titled “Energy Consumers Relief Act,” would prohibit the EPA from implementing any energy-related rules costing more than $1 billion. The other piece of legislation, The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS) would give Congress final say on rules and regulations coming from the executive branch agencies, costing $100 million or more. This bill is regarded as highly beneficial, especially for small businesses, as it would ease a large burden businesses are facing in complying with numerous regulations. However, neither bill has much hope of action in the Senate.
Among other legislation passed by the House were “Keep IRS Off Your Healthcare Act,” which would prohibit the IRS from implementing and enforcing the healthcare law; the “Stop Government Abuse Act,” which combines three different bills; “Citizen Empowerment,” which would allow people to record phone conversations with most federal employees; “Government Employee Accountability,” which would allow federal agencies to place employees on unpaid leave if they are under investigation for certain offenses; and “Common Sense in Compensation,” which places limits on federal employee bonuses. These bills, which gained little bipartisan support, are unlikely to see action in the Senate.
If you are wondering why the House passed so many symbolic and largely empty bills that have little prospect of action, the answer is its need to go home to constituents and leave them with the impression it is doing something positive in Washington. Summer break is the time when the Congressmen and women go back home to meet with their constituents and, expectantly, give a satisfactory account for their work. The latter is likely a nuisance for most legislators because, as we all have seen and heard, Congress has failed to agree on solutions for our most pressing issues and therefore, have not passed any measure that effectively deals with these important issues. For the anti-big-government House leaders, bashing the administration and blaming the bureaucrats for the nation’s troubles is an easy and sure way to appeal to voters. Clearly, the intent of the “Stop Government Abuse Week” was to send the message to voters rather than to legislate effectively.
Will Brown is NUCA’s Government Relations Manager.