Congress and Vacations: Really?

OK. I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news. Members of Congress — and just about everyone else Inside the Beltway except the K Street lobbyists who are the big winners in the debt debacle — are on vacation now until after Labor Day.

Wow. Nice work if you can get it.

OK. I know. Members of Congress and their staffs do work hard — even if they don’t accomplish much. They deserve some time off. And many are running for re-election. So it doesn’t hurt any to get out of DC and mingle some with people in the real world.

But it seems like there are still some big fish in the skillet waiting to be fried: the biggest being jobs and an economy that appears stalled at best and possibly headed back into recession. If you are out of work, fretting about the value of your house and savings, do these worries go away when members of Congress go away for four or five weeks?

This just isn’t the view of one pajama-clad citizen journalist. I’ve got at least the Maine Congressional delegation on my side. Here’s from the Bangor Daily News:

Although the Congressional delegation says vacationing in Maine in August is just wonderful, they all agree they should remain in Washington to do more work.

“Most people I have talked with and heard from in Maine on the debt ceiling have asked why are we not dealing with jobs, helping to create jobs,” said Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in an interview. “We should not be taking August off; we should be working to create an economic package that will help get this economy going again.”

She said she had met with GOP Senate leadership and other Republican senators and urged them to oppose taking the month off. The Senate is not scheduled to convene until after Labor Day.

“This super commission simply cannot do everything that needs to be done,” Snowe said. “They need to seek help from the regular committees that have the expertise. I think they should ask the Finance Committee to work on tax reform. We have done a lot of work on overhauling the tax code.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said it is “irresponsible” for Congress to take the month off from dealing with the current budget bills, particularly with the additional workload created by the new deficit reduction committee. She said it is unlikely that all of the spending bills will be ready by Oct. 1, resulting in the need for another resolution to keep government operating.

“The House should not have gone home without resolving the [Federal Aviation Agency] authorization bill that is holding up work on airport projects in Maine that need to be done,” she said.

Oh well. Maybe since we are now forming a new Super Congress to wrestle with the debt and spending issue there is no need for the members of the Regular Congress to return to DC at all. Just sayin’.

And I know there are plenty of different spins on what was accomplished — or not — with the just-passed legislation to hike the debt ceiling. But here’s one from Sen. Tom Coburn in WaPo “Why I voted against the debt deal” that strikes me as being accurate:

The good news out of the debt debate is that Washington is now debating how much we can cut instead of how much we can spend. The American people deserve all the credit for forcing that change. Unfortunately, it’s still all talk in Washington. This deal is a victory for politicians but a defeat for families.

In spite of what politicians on both sides are saying, this agreement does not cut any spending over 10 years. In fact, it increases discretionary spending by $830 billion.

I voted against this agreement because it does nothing to address the real drivers of our debt. It eliminates no program, consolidates no duplicative programs, cuts no tax earmarks and reforms no entitlement program. The specter of default or a credit downgrade will still hang over our economy after this deal becomes law.

Politicians on both sides are misleading the country by calling a slowdown in the growth rate of new spending a “cut.” Spending will increase at a time when real cuts are necessary to make us live within our means, repair our economy and preserve our credit rating.

It is true that next year there will be a genuine cut of $7 billion when discretionary spending drops from $1.05 trillion to $1.043 trillion. But with our government borrowing $4.5 billion a day, that $7 billion is enough to fund the government for about 36 hours. And after our day and a half of restraint, spending will increase $830 billion over 10 years.

Supporters say the real savings will come when the joint committee the deal empowers makes recommendations to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion (as we increase the debt limit by the same amount). But the enforcement mechanism designed to force these hard decisions — across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs — will never work. Congress will easily evade these caps. In the Senate, all it will take is 60 votes — the threshold for passing anything. Some have complained about defense cuts, but everyone in Washington knows those cuts can be avoided through supplemental or “emergency” spending bills.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see when the Super Congress returns from vacation.



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