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Congress on Vacation: What Gets Left Undone

by Heather Rogers, published
Credit: The New York Times

The 535 members of Congress are about to take a break for summer recess, free from the rigors of government. Some argue it is an undeserved repose. Beginning on August 9th, the legislators of our nation will leave the capitol, not to return for five weeks. So what do the members of Congress do while on recess? Put in long days at the district office? Host campaign fundraisers? Trips to the Bahamas?

A recent Gallup poll measured public approval of Congress at just 16 percent, a fact that hasn’t deterred Congress from taking its lengthy vacation. No doubt, reelection concerns are at the forefront of the minds of all congressional incumbents with elections only few months away. They will likely spend the majority of the recess securing their seats come November instead of facing legislation in Washington.

Critics accuse Congress of successfully giving the impression of being more concerned with reelection campaigns than reaching decisions about the important legislation looming on the horizon. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) has spoken out against the August recess, saying that Congress should cancel all or some of it in order to stop $500 billion in defense cuts. This is just one of the matters that will have to wait while congress is on vacation. Pending issues, ranging from taxes to postal service reform will be put on hold until Congress heads back to Washington refreshed from its lengthy vacation.

Here is a brief description of some key issues that may be put on hold while Congress is away.

  • 2012 Farm Bill- In light of the current severe drought experienced by over half of the country, many have called for the quick passage of the Farm Bill that will provide aid to farmers. The legislation will likely be considered before the August recess however if it doesn’t pass Congress might simply pass an emergency relief measure.
  • Postal Service Default- The Postal Service is on the verge of defaulting, with some huge required payments coming up. Congress has long since passed short-term resolutions to cover for the service’s plummeting revenues. This time around, Congress is far from coming to a resolution.
  • The Stopgap measure- After reuniting in September, Congress will have only 8 days in which to pass legislation which will extend government funding for another 6 months avoiding a government shutdown.
  • Bush Era Tax Cuts- Expiring in December 2012 the tax cuts that have been in place for nearly 12 years will expire. Still not close to compromise, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are likely to wait until the last minute to decide on an extension to the tax cuts.

The August recess conveniently coincides with the Republican National Convention (Aug 27th through Aug 30th), and the Democrat National Convention (Sept 3rd through Sept 6th) giving lawmakers the opportunity to attend the events.

As dissatisfaction with Congress grows and criticism toward its long recess increases, the days of five week vacations for our legislators might be coming to a close.

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