Congress jets to five-week recess

Congress adjourned for a five-week summer recess on Friday without having approved emergency funding for the thousands of migrant children being detained at the border.

The summer session of Congress came to a chaotic end as House Republicans worked for two days to muscle through a $694 million supplemental funding bill for the border.

That measure passed on Friday night in a tight vote, giving House Republicans a hard-fought victory as they headed home to campaign for the midterm elections.

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Senate Democrats rejected the House bill out of hand, making it exceedingly unlikely that lawmakers will approve emergency funding to help President Obama deal with the more than 50,000 children who have crossed into the United States this summer.

Obama mocked Congress as taking a “vacation” and said lawmakers have left him with no choice but to deal with the border crisis on his own.

"I'm gonna have to act alone because we don't have enough resources. We're going to run out of money," he said.

The House was initially going to adjourn on Thursday, but some Republicans balked at leaving without having taken action on the border crisis.

The final House border bill was passed alongside legislation that would limit the Deferred Action on Child Arrivals (DACA) program, which delays deportations of certain undocumented people who came to the United States as children.

Obama trashed the House bills during an unscheduled trip to the White House briefing room, saying Republicans held a vote “just so they can check a box before they're leaving town for a month.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pushed back on the president and noted that the Senate had already left town when the House was acting on legislation.

"When it comes to the humanitarian crisis on our southern border, President Obama has been completely AWOL — in fact, he has made matter worse by flip-flopping on the 2008 law that fueled the crisis,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

It was a frantic and polarizing end to a summer work period that saw some bipartisan action on legislation, but on the whole was defined by gridlock.

Lawmakers did manage to pass a bipartisan deal to reform the scandal-ridden Veterans Affairs Department and came together to ward off a bankruptcy of federal highway funding that was scheduled to begin in August.

But other legislative priorities languished, leaving Congress on pace for the most unproductive two-year stretch in American history.

The current Congress, which began in January 2013, has passed 142 bills that have become law. Data from govtrack, a website that follows bills through Congress, indicate that lawmakers are on pace to break the record for fewest bills signed into law — a record that was set just two years ago.

Experts blame the trend on the growing polarization between the two political parties.

A measure of members’ ideologies developed by political scientists Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole finds that Congress is more polarized now than at any time since the end of Reconstruction in the 19th century.

Their data show the number of centrist members in both parties has fallen from around 40 percent in the early 1980s to under 10 percent today.

“The effect is rather complete policy paralysis,” said Rosenthal, a professor at New York University.

“They don't talk because they’re just so ideologically opposed,” he said.

Absent negotiations on legislation, both sides now seem to take increasing delight in lobbing blame at each other.

During a speech in Kansas City on Wednesday, Obama told a cheering crowd that Congress should “stop just hating all the time.”

The Speaker’s office, for its part, points to over 40 bills that it says would create jobs that are awaiting action from the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) casts blame on Senate Republicans, accusing them of obstructionism. Senate Republicans say Reid is running the chamber like a dictator, shutting them out of the legislative process altogether.

Polling shows the public is fed up with the circle of blame.

A Gallup poll last month found that the proportion of adults with confidence in Congress has fallen to seven percent, the lowest level ever recorded.

Nonetheless, the partisan fires are likely to burn even hotter when lawmakers return from recess in September.

Against the backdrop of the midterm election campaign, the House and Senate will have to pass a stopgap continuing resolution to avoid a repeat of last October’s government shutdown.

The effort could be complicated by the fact that the authorization of the Export-Import Bank, which some Republicans want to end, expires on the same day as government spending.

Lawmakers will be crunched for time, as the Senate is scheduled to be in Washington for only two weeks before heading out on the campaign trail full-time. The House plans to be in session for three weeks.

“There will be no weekends off,” Reid said.