Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.) used a Tuesday morning pro forma session of the House to call on members of the chamber to return to Washington to complete work on a tax bill and other legislation, but the House ignored her request and was quickly gaveled out until Friday.
Edwards spoke in one of several pro forma sessions planned between now and the election, as the House and Senate did not agree to adjourn during that time. She blasted the GOP as a "do-nothing" majority that's prioritized "obstructionism" and political messaging over passing legislation to create jobs and improve the economy, in her surprise appearance.
She started by making a parliamentary inquiry as to whether the House could consider legislation by unanimous consent. The presiding officer, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), replied, "The gentlelady has put forward a hypothetical, upon which the chair cannot opine."
"Should it not be possible to consider legislation and to complete work on behalf of the American people, including middle-class tax cuts, which we all agree upon?" she asked. She also noted the Violence Against Women Act and a farm bill, and said the list "goes on and on."
"The American people deserve answers and they deserve action," Edwards said. "They deserve more than simply a pro forma session and the do-nothing Congress and Republican obstructionism.
"Democrats are committed to return to Washington to continue the work of the people, and I would ask my Republican colleagues to join us. Mr. Speaker, is it possible for us to return to work and do the business of the people rather than this pro forma session?" she continued.
"Sadly, the gentlelady has not put forward a parliamentary inquiry," replied LaTourette, who gaveled the House out of session after a few more minutes of parliamentary business.
Edwards's remarks are just the latest in a string of Democratic efforts to paint the Republicans as uninterested in working across the aisle to reach deals on pressing issues like farm subsidies and food stamps, defense cuts under sequestration, reform of the postal service and an extension of the Bush-era tax rates for the working class.
Behind House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Republicans have countered that they've already passed legislation tackling most of those issues – most prominently in their 2013 budget proposal – and are waiting on Senate Democrats to act.
The Democrats' tactic is reminiscent of the Republicans' 2008 strategy to keep a number of members in Washington during the August recess to protest the Democrats' opposition to expanding offshore oil drilling even as gas prices were skyrocketing.
The House was initially scheduled to be in session this week, but GOP leaders altered course last week and launched a seven-week recess that began on Friday. House leaders have scheduled four weeks in November and December for work.
"Not only did they preside over the most inefficient, ineffective Congress that we've had in generations, but then they quit to go home," Edwards charged Tuesday at a brief press conference after the pro forma session had been gaveled to a close.
Senate Democrats have also given themselves a seven-week, pre-election break. The upper chamber recessed on Saturday and won't be back until the week after the Nov. 6 elections.
Edwards on Tuesday said that, because House GOP leaders left Washington first, the onus is on them to return and tackle Congress's unfinished business.
"The House went out first. As long as the House is out, what is the point of having the Senate [in]?" she asked. "If Speaker Boehner decides to come back in, you can be guaranteed that we will all be here and the Senate will be in session."
This story was updated at 12:01 p.m.