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Congress needs to forgo recess to get more work done for Americans

Congress needs to forgo recess to get more work done for Americans
© Greg Nash

Congress never allows its own bad behavior or lack of accomplishment to get in the way of its vacations and recesses. Isn’t it about time we addressed that? The dysfunctions within Congress are too numerous to explore here, but two of the most obvious examples are the broken confirmations and appropriations processes. Both of these examples of brokenness on Capitol Hill are greatly exacerbated by recesses.

In the case of the broken confirmation process, consider this: President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE has had far fewer nominees confirmed at this point in his administration than any of his four predecessor presidents. Despite the fact that Republicans control Congress and the White House, the nominees are not getting through the Senate confirmation process.

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The obstructionist tactics of the Democrats are to blame, of course, but so is the Senate schedule, along with the fact that the Senate is working laughably short workweeks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) has chosen to make nearly every confirmation a battle and, in so doing, he has simultaneously weaponized cloture and held the debate schedule hostage to his agenda.

The historical record reveals the effect of Schumer’s hijacking of the confirmation process. Only one of President George H.W. Bush’s nominees faced a cloture vote. In President Clinton’s first term, there were only 10 cloture votes on nominees. President George W. Bush’s nominees in his first term fared even better, with only four experiencing a cloture vote. For President Obama, the number was 17 in his first term.

The grand total of cloture votes on nominees for those four presidents during their first terms? A paltry 3-2. By contrast, President Trump’s nominees have faced an astounding 89 cloture votes over the past 18 months. Schumer’s strategy means that the Senate schedule is tied up in forced “debate time,” grinding the Senate to a near halt. As of May 1, there were still 300 nominees awaiting Senate confirmation.

Now consider the broken appropriations process. After Trump signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus, he voiced his frustrations shared by millions of Americans with the massive spending bill: “I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it.”

How did we wind up with a $1.3 trillion spending bill? The institutionalized brokenness of Congress is to blame. The last time Congress passed each of the 12 spending bills on time was more than 20 years ago back in 1997. Passing individual appropriations bills is one of the key functions of Congress, and yet it routinely fails to do so.

The apathetic attitude on Capitol Hill toward the spending process has resulted in an annual crisis with looming deadlines to fund the government, along with pressure to pass massive spending bills that no one has time to read. Unsurprisingly, the process leads to out of control and unchecked spending. But, through it all, recess remains a sacred part of the calendar for Congress.

No matter how few nominees have been confirmed, and regardless of how little progress has been made on the spending bills, Congress rigidly observes its vacation time. Is it any wonder the American people are fed up with Washington? Earlier this week, I joined Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in offering a simple solution that we believe will address the flawed confirmation and appropriations processes, which is delaying the August recess.

As we outlined at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Congress should delay August recess until the House and Senate have both had an opportunity to debate all 12 spending bills to fund the government, and until they have voted on and approved the bills and sent them to the president to be signed. We stipulated that the Senate should delay August recess until the body has made significant progress clearing out the backlog of the president’s nominees.

We call it the “Make Congress Work Again” program, and we mean that in every sense possible. Congress is broken, and it’s time to make it work again, even if that requires lawmakers to work through their scheduled vacation time. To show Congress how serious Americans are about this concept, we have created the Honest Government Pledge, and we are asking activists across the country to make their voices heard.

We need to call August recess what it really is. It’s a month-long vacation and an unseemly reward for an institution that manufactures crises, procrastinates on its fiscal responsibilities, and ignores its constitutional duties. As we head into the November elections, and Americans increasingly become wise to the games Congress plays, lawmakers should treat August recess as a reward for finishing its work, not a guaranteed vacation away from its duties to this country.

Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.