America, here is what your Congress did for you this week.
They agreed to honor Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg by presenting his next of kin with a medal.
Bipartisanship reared its head when 373 lawmakers voted to give Jack Nicklaus the Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship.” Cost: no more than $30,000.
Civil rights hero Lena Horne was also recognized — as was Mark Twain. And Republicans voted on a sportsmen’s bill that opens federal lands for hunting and fishing.
The House passed a highway bill that is nothing more than a vehicle to negotiate with the Senate. And a 20 percent business tax cut will come up on Thursday — it is already dead in the Senate and a nonstarter with the White House.
And the Senate? Democrats are working on a budget in a committee that won’t allow amendments and leadership won’t allow a vote until after the election.
Another piece of legislation to reform the near-bankrupt Postal Service is bogged down in the Senate in an unrelated dispute over foreign aid to Egypt.
Unemployment is still north of 8 percent and gas is above $4 a gallon. But it’s unavoidable: Congress, a body that can advance proposals only when there’s common ground, simply isn’t getting much done.
Politicians in both camps counter such cynicism about congressional inaction, insisting that they’re working hard to heal a dismal economy. Whether it’s the “Buffett rule” or small-business tax cuts — both parties think they have the answers. If only the other gang would get out of its way.
But the inaction raises more questions for Congress. Should they just pass single-chamber legislation they know has no chance at becoming law?
“November is the fight for our country,” Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks
said. “And we have people who are basically socialist, bigger government, higher tax fans who have one viewpoint. And you have people who believe in a smaller government, individual liberty, lower taxes, free enterprise versus socialism. That’s the battle. What you’re seeing in the Senate and the House is messaging to help the public better understand what the options are.”
Others are peeved. Folks like Rep. Reid Ribble — a Wisconsin Republican who is a big golfer but voted against the Nicklaus resolution any way.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for the Congress of the United States, when we’re $15 trillion in debt, to be using that to fill time,” Ribble said.
He was one of four no votes. Fifty-three lawmakers didn’t even vote.
Ribble said he doesn’t blame voters for their disapproval.
“They look at it and say, ‘what’s wrong with us?’” Ribble said. “They’re cynical. I’m still cynical. I tell folks back home: I come here and vote on what’s there.”
Rep. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, said most of the positive action is away from the House floor, so people should take solace.
“I think that what’s going on that isn’t necessarily voted on is as important as ever,” Scott said. “We’re still working on ways to find a way to solve the oil crisis, solve the economic crisis and solve the jobs crisis.”
Republicans are making progress on some fronts. The two parties are hashing out a deal on a cybersecurity bill that will come to the floor next week. A reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank will also come up next week. Some are holding out hope for a farm bill before the election. Plus, they think they exacted a major victory Wednesday, passing the Keystone XL pipeline as part of a highway bill that garnered a veto-proof majority — the GOP thinks President Barack Obama will now have to approve the pipeline.
And the lame-duck session — after the November elections — will be a storm of activity.
To be fair, Democrats had their moments of election-year inertia. On April 20, 2010, Congress expressed support for the “goals and ideals of National Financial Literacy Month, 2010” and honored the “life and achievements of the Rev. Benjamin Lawson Hooks.”
But the blame is full throttle ahead.
Take Speaker John Boehner’s comments on Wednesday. He criticized Obama for “campaigning from one end of the country to the other instead of working with members of both political parties here in Washington to address the serious challenges that our country faces.” But most of the bills on the floor this week are single-party bills.
Asked how he was working with the other party, Boehner blamed the other party.
“The president’s been AWOL,” Boehner said. “If the president is about helping to create jobs, where are his ideas? Why won’t he sit down and talk to us? And yes, maybe he doesn’t like this 20 percent tax cut that would help 20 million small businesses; what are his ideas? When there are no conversations, there’s no engagement, all we’re left with is moving our own ideas through the regular order, and through the regular process here in Congress.”
Do Republicans shoulder any of the blame?
“I told the president over a year ago,” Boehner said. “If there were ideas he and I could agree on, that were in the best interest of our country, I’d be there to support [them].”
So why not take a chance to try to fix the problems now, with seven months to go before the election?
“We don’t have the backbone,” Brooks said, partially referring to the Republican majority he’s a part of. “This Congress doesn’t have the backbone to deal with it.”