Congress leaving for seven-week recess

Greg Nash

Members of Congress are leaving Washington on Thursday for a seven-week recess without reaching deals on gun control, funding to combat the Zika virus or government spending.

Lawmakers are turning their attention toward this month’s political conventions — and toward their own reelection races.

{mosads}Neither the House nor Senate will be in session again until after Labor Day in September.

Congress traditionally goes on recess throughout the month of August. But the summer recess will be longer than usual this year because of the conventions.

Republicans will travel to Cleveland for Donald Trump’s presidential nomination next week, while Democrats are slated to gather in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton the week of July 25.

The House had originally been scheduled to depart on Friday, but GOP leaders opted to adjourn a day early after deciding to scrap a bill aimed at preventing terror suspects from buying guns.

The bill being pushed by GOP leaders would have allowed the Justice Department to block a gun sale if it obtained a court order justifying the suspected terror threat within three days. Many conservatives felt that proposal could jeopardize due process rights and threatened to vote against the bill, while Democrats thought it didn’t go far enough.

The Senate considered similar competing GOP and Democratic measures last month to restrict terror suspects’ access to firearms, but they all failed along party lines.

Without a coalition in place to pass the bill, Congress will depart without approving any legislation on guns, just one month after 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando by a shooter who pledged allegiance to Islamic terrorist groups.

House Judiciary Committee Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), announced a bipartisan working group to review police accountability and violence toward law enforcement amid a growing uproar over gun violence and incidents between police and minority communities.   

“These issues are not going to be solved overnight and they won’t be solved by Congress alone,” Goodlatte and Conyers said in a joint statement. “Our goal in creating this working group is to discuss these issues candidly with each another [sic] so that we can begin to find common ground on these matters of national importance.”

Lawmakers also left the Capitol without a compromise on funding to help limit the spread of the Zika virus. 

Health experts have warned that mosquitoes carrying Zika will breed over the summer and worsen the spread of the virus. 

Senate Democrats have been blocking the legislation from advancing after it passed the House last month.

Democrats objected to provisions in the $1.1 billion package that blocked funds for Planned Parenthood and loosened Clean Water Act regulations. 

Congress only faced one hard-set deadline before recess: reauthorizing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs before they were set to expire on Friday. Both chambers easily cleared a short-term FAA extension that lasts through September 2017.

The renewal also includes policy provisions to enhance airport security, reform drone use and help ease long airport security lines that resulted from Transportation Security Administration staff cuts. 

Lawmakers did clear one long-awaited item before adjournment. Legislation to combat opioid addiction passed the Senate this week after a bipartisan vote in the House last Friday.

Congress has come under pressure to enact legislation to help people addicted to opioids and prescription drugs after the rapid rise of overdose deaths in recent years. 

Democrats objected to the lack of new funding for programs to treat addiction in the legislation, but ultimately opted against blocking the bicameral agreement. GOP leaders have pledged to provide more than $500 million in funding when Congress considers a deal on government spending later this year. 

Lawmakers will have less than a month to avoid a government shutdown when they reconvene on Sept. 6, and funding for opioid addiction treatment programs will be just one part of the fight.  

Congress is expected to pass a short-term spending patch to avoid a shutdown on Oct. 1, just weeks before the November elections.

That comes despite pledges from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to return to a “regular order” appropriations process. Neither chamber managed to pass more than a handful of the 12 annual appropriations bills this year.

There’s already some disagreement over how long the short-term stopgap funding bill should last. Some House conservatives want it to run into 2017 so that a lame-duck session of Congress doesn’t have to consider the matter after the elections.

Other lawmakers, including appropriators, think the stopgap should only last through the end of this year.

House Republicans will also face the prospect of voting to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen when they return in September.

Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus filed a privileged resolution on the House’s last day in session on Thursday to force a vote on impeaching Koskinen. Conservatives have been pushing GOP leaders to initiate impeachment proceedings against Koskinen for months.

House rules state that “privileged” motions must be considered within two legislative days. With the House set to recess, Freedom Caucus members expect the vote to be after Labor Day.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other senior Republicans are wary of voting to impeach Koskinen because they think it would set a bad precedent. The House has only voted one other time in history to impeach a Cabinet official: Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876.

The maneuver is reminiscent of the Freedom Caucus’s move almost exactly a year ago to force then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into an early retirement.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) filed a measure a day before the House left for recess that would have forced a referendum vote on Boehner’s leadership. While the resolution wasn’t privileged, its presence hung over Republicans throughout the recess.

Boehner ultimately announced plans to resign within a few weeks after the House returned the following September.


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