The Day – Is Congress Spending Too Much Time Outside Washington? Another pause raises questions

WASHINGTON – Congress has no votes this week despite the government running out of money next Friday and expected to hit its debt ceiling soon after.

This Thanksgiving break marks the second major exodus from Washington for Congress this month. The House and Senate were out of service for the week of November 8th because of Veterans Day, and in October they were gone for a week-long hiatus.

That schedule means “there is a quick policy-making process at the end of the process, with all agreements being made in the last few hours,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center and former director of research for the National League of Cities in Washington.

“They should be there and only do the normal things they are supposed to do,” said Andrew Lautz, director of federal politics at the National Taxpayers Union.

The legislature vigorously defends the timetable.

Margaret Mulkerrin, spokeswoman for the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Called this year “historically productive”.

She cited the House’s approval of the American rescue plan, which provided economic relief for COVID-related issues, a $ 1 trillion infrastructure package, and last Friday the $ 1.75 billion budget and tax bill. Dollar.

“All of these accomplishments have been made possible by a robust House of Representatives schedule of committee work weeks – originally born of a need during the height of the pandemic – that allow House committees to hold hearings and legislate continuously to continue to legislate.” , she said.

Additionally, according to some experts, there is a greater need for member presence and services at home on issues exacerbated by the pandemic, such as immigration issues and the maze of new and expanded federal programs to help people cope with the volatile economy.

Because of these pressing issues at home, “more is at stake” and so voters want lawmakers’ help, said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the independent Congressional Management Foundation, which studies Congress.

Too many cutouts?

The Senate formally met on January 3 that year, met on January 6, and then convened again on January 20.

It then broke for “district work hours,” which included one week in February for President’s Day, two weeks in late March and April for Easter and Passover, another week in early May, and again around Memorial Day. In July it was two weeks before Independence Day. There was a month long break from August to September, one week in October for Columbus Day, and now the two weeks in November.

When the Senate is present, the sessions of the week usually begin on Mondays at 3 p.m. and end on Thursdays in the afternoon.

The schedule is expected to include more weekdays and even weekends in December as the deadlines loom.

The house’s schedule was slightly different and comprised 15 “committee work weeks”. Fitch praised these weeks, noting that they allowed members to attend committee meetings without having to be interrupted to vote. Seven more weeks are referred to as district working time.

Legislators routinely defend the timetable. “I don’t think the time we’re here is necessarily related to how productive we are,” said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas.

They say they have to be home. “It’s an odd situation to be in a place where most of the work is outside of the place you represent,” said Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa. “Sometimes people complain that they don’t see you enough at home.”

Last minute house, Senate decisions

The real hassle of on-and-off planning is that big decisions can be made without much control.

“Members usually benefit when an invoice has to go through a process,” said Fitch.

When the Senate returns to formal sessions on November 29 and the House of Representatives the next day, the more pressing legislation is to secure funding for the government and maintain its borrowing capacity.

The expenses are said to be included in a dozen household bills, bills that are reviewed and negotiated year-round. Their legislation is designed to take full advantage of the House and Senate, who aim to pass laws by September 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

That almost never happens, forcing Congress to pass a makeshift law. The last such measure expires on December 3rd.

Congress is expected to fill a gap again. If not, most of the government will be shut down.

Another deadline looms about two weeks later, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this week that the government will exhaust its borrowing powers on December 15. If the debt ceiling is not lifted, defaults could affect not only the US economy but the world as well.

However, there is no plan for Congress to be there until next week to formally deal with all of this.

That probably won’t be a problem, said Cornyn. “Part of it is just the nature of the beast, that we kick the can in the street until we hit a deadline,” he said. “Then we do things miraculously. It may be in human nature. “

The Lautz of the Taxpayers Union was not compassionate.

“Let’s not forget that they pay members and staff to work on the legislation in Washington,” he said.

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© 2021 McClatchy Washington Office. Visit mcclatchydc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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