Back in May, the congressional scholar Norm Ornstein posed the head-scratching question of whether the current 114th Congress, or its recent predecessor the 112th, is the “worst Congress ever.” It wasn’t an easy call.
At that point, the 114th Congress’ landmark achievement was probably the designation of the bison as the National Mammal. Since then the GOP-controlled Congress has registered one more significant accomplishment: enacting a long-delayed reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. They dealt, though not necessarily in the most constructive manner possible, with Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. And it looks like they’ll succeed in making some funds available for dealing with the opioid epidemic, strengthening airport security, and providing for labeling of genetically modified foods before they leave for a seven-week summer recess. You will note in the list above that Congress mostly acted when it absolutely had to.
If anything else significant got done this year, it was kept pretty quiet. Thanks to a much-ignored bipartisan spending agreement late last year, Congress has felt no need to pass a formal budget, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s solemn promise to pass regular appropriations bills instead of the usual “stopgap” omnibus bills is going to be broken. Nothing, of course, happened on gun regulation. And progress on the one long-term project where bipartisan agreement seemed possible earlier in the year, criminal-justice reform, has ground to a halt, in no small part because Donald Trump’s favorite senator, Jeff Sessions, really hates it.
As of June, Gallup reported that Americans gave Congress a booming 16 percent job-approval rating, up from 11 percent during last year’s government shutdown.
All in all, these birds (or at least the Republican birds who run the place) ought to keep their heads down, and not by taking a long vacation. But it’s an election year, and incumbents need to spend some time with the Folks blasting Washington, D.C. Since the conventions are earlier this year than in the recent past, the summer “break” is longer. But it gets worse: Upon returning after Labor Day, Congress is expected to fight for a bit over spending and then agree to — yes, you guessed it — a stopgap omnibus appropriations bill before adjourning again until after the elections and probably until the next Congress convenes in January.
If you encounter any Republican members of Congress this summer or fall, be sure to thank them for their hard work and productivity. Thank God they’ll have time to recharge their batteries.