Last week the heat index in the nation’s capital reached 104 degrees, meaning summer is definitely in full swing in Washington. And, just as the temperature heated up, Congress cooled down and headed home for their annual summer recess. Unfortunately for taxpayers, lawmakers still have a great deal of work to do in an already abbreviated calendar that will only be shorter once they return in September, that’s right, September.
There are many fiscal problems that are gripping the country, including a deficit that is expected to reach $600 billion this year. Now, while Congress can’t wave a magic wand and solve every problem, there are things that they have the power to do and should have gotten done before they decided to leave town for a month and half.
The appropriations process is the underpinning of how the government is funded. A chaotic process means more spending and more earmarks.
The goal of moving toward regular order was a key promise from House and Senate Republicans during the 2014 election. The promise of regular order has been broken and has given way with Congress once again falling way behind on passing appropriations bills.
The House has passed five bills and the Senate has passed only three bills. No spending bills have reached the president’s desk.
When Congress returns in September, it will have less than a month to complete the spending bills before facing another threat of a government shutdown or a massive omnibus-spending bill. There is probably no appetite for a government shutdown during an election year, but an omnibus bill is a real possibility. Though there are some good parts to omnibus spending bills, the regular appropriations process is the way that things should be done. Every dollar should be accounted for and there should be plenty of time for Congress to read and rework bills to make sure that spending cuts are included and earmarks are kept out.
USDA CATFISH REPEAL
There aren’t many times when Congress is faced with what would be considered “no-brainer” legislation, but repealing the wasteful and duplicative United States Department of Agriculture’s Catfish Inspection Program is about as easy as it will get.
The Government Accountability Office has targeted the program a record 10 times, the Senate has voted for repeal, the president has not issued a veto threat, and there is bipartisan support for repeal from more than 200 members in the House. The only thing left to wonder is when will the vote be to repeal this poster-child for waste and that’s what many have been asking House GOP leadership.
The National Defense Authorization Act is the first step in funding the Pentagon. Unfortunately, along with a broken appropriations process, there isn’t even a completed Defense authorization bill this year. The House and Senate are headed to conference to craft a compromise bill to vote on and send to the president, even though the White House has threatened a veto.
The NDAA is one of the most reliable bills for passage in Congress, but disagreements on funding levels and the continued use of the Overseas Contingency Operations account are working against getting an NDAA done.
Obviously, there is more to be done than the three items mentioned. But this list shows just how far behind Congress is in getting its work done for the year.
And, Congress is facing a shortened calendar in a presidential election year. With less than 40 legislative working days left in 2016, there is a great deal of work that lawmakers are leaving on the table. When Congress returns in September there will already be plenty of work for them to do, but it remains to be seen if they get any of it done.