Congress’ inaction

The 2010 midterm elections gave Americans a Congress widely panned for its failure to do much more than adhere to ideology, making it an infamously unproductive lawmaking convention. When this session of Congress began in January, there was at least some reason to believe that legislators from both parties had received the message that it was time to set aside their partisan battle axes and get down to addressing the country’s urgent business. The message was received, but it seems to have been largely ignored thus far.

The 112th Congress achieved the low honor of being the least productive session of federal legislating on record, and many voters were hopeful that November’s election served as a rebuke of that partisan gridlock. As it is turning out, though, the 113th Congress thus far into its session has done even less than its predecessor. It is an embarrassment, to be sure, but lawmakers’ collective incompetence has much deeper ramifications.

There is much unfinished business for Congress to attend to from last session’s do-little record, and failing to address issues such as the budget, debt and deficit, student loan rates, the federal farm bill and immigration has concrete and dramatic consequences for millions of Americans from both political parties. There is no saving face for Republicans or Democrats who refuse to find – let alone seek – meaningful compromise, choosing instead to duke it out along locked party lines. The gridlock is absolutely unacceptable and shows no sign of easing.

“The 113th Congress is on track to be even less productive than the historic 112th Congress,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan, but liberal-leaning think tank. “The problem arises from a Republican House unwilling and unable to engage in the normal process of negotiation and compromise with the president and their continued willingness to live with a destructive sequester.”

That willingness extends beyond the budget issues and into each of the other critical areas of unfinished but urgent business. Deals for immigration, the farm bill and student loans have all been within reach but fallen apart largely because of political bickering, not substantive reasons. The Senate has cobbled together some bipartisan achievements, but they are worth little without House action. It is time to move beyond such paralysis.

Lawmakers this week will return to Washington, D.C., where they have an opportunity to reverse the troubling trend they have set for this session of Congress. Members of both parties must rise to the challenge of enacting policy that serves all Americans well instead of deploying politics that harm equally and benefit no one in a practical manner. How humiliating it would be for this class of lawmakers to be remembered as the worst on record after an abysmal showing by its predecessor. How much worse for Americans awaiting critical action on real-life issues. Congress needs to get to work meaningfully and immediately.

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