The Hill Editorial: Lawmakers, do your job – you're lucky to have one

Most Americans get two or, perhaps, three weeks’ vacation each year. This is worth remembering as Aug. 3 approaches. That’s when lawmakers start their five-week summer break, at the end of which they’ll return briefly to Capitol Hill before begging voters to let them stay on the job for another term.

To write “on the job” is ironic, for it is a plain fact, reflected in their abysmal 17 percent approval rating, that lawmakers are not doing their jobs. 

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Their lack of performance gets worse by the day. It’s 1,181 days since the Senate passed a budget, which means the upper chamber has failed in its most basic duty for longer than John F. Kennedy was president.

It’s not just the Senate. House members, too, are leaving town after a feckless period of quasi-legislating in which bills have been considered primarily as a means to look good at the expense of opponents before the November election. 

Such inertia would be unimpressive even if the ship of state were sailing smoothly. But America is, rather, out in dangerous fiscal waters and buffeted by increasingly violent economic headwinds. It’s no time for the crew to head for their hammocks.

Absent swift congressional action, the government will shut down; income taxes, estate taxes, employment taxes, capital gains taxes and other investment taxes will surge; $1.1 trillion will be vacuumed out of defense and non-defense spending; hundreds of thousands of people will be thrown out of work; national security will be undermined; and the nation will arrive on the threshold of a debt default for the second time in 18 months. No wonder confidence is falling and joblessness is rising.

Aside from that, there’s leftover legislation on the farm bill, Chinese currency, Iran sanctions, violence against women, the line-item veto, cybersecurity, Russian trade, government reorganization and miscellaneous tariffs.

Listing all these bills is not to suggest they’re all worth passing, but it does suggest this is the wrong time for Congress to take a vacation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already told her troops not to bother going to the convention in Charlotte, and there is no more reason why Republicans should go to Tampa. So the presidential nominating conventions are scant excuse for decamping from Washington.

The truth is that lawmakers have more than a full three months before voters decide whether they deserve to be returned to the 113th Congress. They’d have a stronger case if they stayed in town and finished their work.

Some say Congress is paralyzed until the election and claim that the victor will call the shots on all these big issues. But lawmakers have always found excuses for inaction. Now it must stop.

They would persuade many more citizens to reelect them if they spent their time focused on our massive problems — particularly the fiscal ones — rather than on the balmy joys of summer and the torrid battles of autumn.

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