Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
The opening lines to “Time,” Pink Floyd’s rock anthem, harken back to 1973. But they could be resurrected as the theme song for the Republican Congress. As Americans start a new work week, the U.S. House, yet again, is on vacation.
With the federal budget, tax reform, Obamacare repeal and replacement, DACA, numerous corruption scandals, hurricane destruction, North Korea’s nuclear threat, and so much more on the table, the House wrapped up a four-day week last Thursday at 1:34 p.m. Thereupon, the House escaped Washington, took Friday off, and now stands adjourned through the entire week of September 18. The House returns to conduct the people’s business on September 25. This follows the House’s five-week-plus summer recess, from which they returned on Tuesday, September 5.
Coupled with the GOP Senate’s epic fail on Obamacare, after which senators headed to the beach for their own month-long hiatus, the Republican Congress’s lassitude is breathtaking. Extremely urgent matters pile up, unattended, and the Republicans who ran and got elected to address them with free-market ideas are, too often, AWOL. President Donald J. Trump evidently has been appalled at his fellow Republicans’ acute vacation-itis.
“GOP Inaction Sent Trump to Democrats,” read the headline above the Wall Street Journal’s lead story this weekend. “Months of mounting frustration with the lack of progress in the Republican-led Congress drove President Donald Trump to cut legislative deals with top Democrats, according to White House officials,” Journal staff writers Peter Nicholas, Rebecca Ballhaus, and Siobhan Hughes discovered. They further reported:
In meetings, he [Trump] has been apt to criticize legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), for taking a summer recess with so much unfinished business, and to complain of betrayals by GOP lawmakers whose votes he thought were locked in, White House aides said.
One senior White House official described an Oval Office meeting in which Mr. Trump said to him: “What’s wrong with you Republicans?” The official said of Mr. Trump: “Every time I’m in there, he’s like, ‘The Senate can’t get anything done. Why isn’t Mitch working? Why did they go home?’”
Leading conservatives and libertarians are aghast as they watch Capitol Hill Republicans snooze through a once-in-a-generation opportunity to limit government, now that the GOP controls the White House and, reputedly, Congress.
‐“I completely disagree with the House’s adjournment decision,” economist and CNBC commenter Larry Kudlow tells me. “There are so many pressing items to deal with at this time. Additionally, I thought the August recess for both chambers was a very bad mistake. They couldn’t get Obamacare repeal and replacement done, and they never even began to take up tax cuts and reform. What’s more, the legislative calendar till year’s end is woefully short. Roughly ten weeks to pass a budget resolution to restrain spending and deliver reconciliation instructions for tax cuts. Frankly, I still work six days a week and have never taken a month off. Why should our elective officials?”
‐“Politicians love to extol the virtues of ‘public service,’ but the only thing they seem to be serving these days is themselves — and their unquenchable need for breaks from their oh-so grueling jobs,” says Monica Crowley, a colleague of mine as a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research. “This country faces serious problems and grave threats, and yet Congress finds it necessary and proper to take yet another recess, because, after all, doing nothing is exhausting. No wonder recent polls put Congress’s job approval in the teens. Ebola has a higher approval rating — probably because Ebola never takes a vacation. Get back to work, or next year you just might discover how dim a view most voters take of your ‘work’ ethic.”
Ebola has a higher approval rating — probably because Ebola never takes a vacation.
In fact, a September 13 Gallup poll found Congress’s approval rating at a mere 16 percent. GOP lawmakers should be terrified that, nationwide, support for the GOP among Republicans has cratered — from 50 percent in February to 18 percent today, just 2 percentage points above the Ryan-McConnell Congress’s 16 percent support among Democrats. Revulsion with the GOP Congress offers a rare glimmer of bipartisanship. Republican lawmakers and strategists are fools if they think rank-and-file GOP voters will race to the polls to reelect these sleepyheads in the next midterm elections.
‐“Should they be working on the tax bill this week?” wonders Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner. “Yes, of course, they should. There’s just no sense of urgency about the whole process right now, and it will come back to haunt them in 2018.”
‐“For years, many taxpayers were relieved when the House or Senate stood in recess,” says Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. “At least it meant that a number of ill-crafted tax and budget policies would be stalled. Now it’s the other way around. The days the House has to act on many pro-taxpayer reforms are dwindling. One example: air-traffic-control reform as part of the FAA re-authorization. Fiscal conservatives have struggled to pass this reform for years. The trouble is, the FAA’s current authorization expires on September 30. That means there will only be a few days for the House to act when it returns. Otherwise, we face the prospect of a bare-bones temporary extension. Not appetizing, to say the least!”
‐“It’s frustrating to watch the House go into recess right now,” says Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks. “There aren’t any significant legislative victories this year. Yes, the House managed to pass a half-baked ‘repeal and replace’ bill that subsequently died in the Senate. They’ve also rolled back more than a dozen of Obama’s midnight regulations. Otherwise, there is little to show for this Republican majority. By the time September is done, the House will have been in session for eleven days, and that’s after a six-week recess. Eleven work days in two months.”
“The one thing we’re all focused on right now is fundamental tax reform,” Brandon continues. “Unfortunately, the pace in the House is slow. We don’t have any detail. We have a promise for detail, but it’s hard to market when you don’t have a product to sell. It’s also difficult to motivate conservatives when they’re disgusted by the failures of this Congress. . . . There just doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what House Republicans are doing.”
While House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office did not respond to my request for comment, Jennifer DiSiena, communications director for Representative Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), was more upbeat about the House’s accomplishments. Last Thursday was “the first time the House will have passed all twelve appropriations bills since 2009,” DiSiena said. “Since January, the House has passed hundreds of bills, including Obamacare repeal, hurricane relief, and border-wall funding. Tax reform is going to get done shortly as well. The Senate has passed and the president has signed dozens of these bills, but the Senate hasn’t yet passed Obamacare repeal, border-wall funding, or tax reform.”
“Representative Zeldin has one thing right,” says former congressman David McIntosh (R., Ind.). “It’s the Senate that has failed to get anything done.” McIntosh is president of the pro-market Club for Growth, whose events I have addressed on several occasions. As he explains: “Even setting aside the inability to deliver on big-ticket items like repealing Obamacare and tax reform, the Senate is still behind historical standards on routine matters like confirming Trump’s appointees and federal judges.”
On this very topic, one exasperated veteran conservative leader asked me: “Why doesn’t McConnell — who is correctly upset with Schumer’s lack of action on the several hundred pending confirmation votes (each of which can, under Senate rules, occupy 30 hours of floor time) — simply decide, with his caucus’s blessing, that they are going into session 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make the calendar fun faster?” This key figure on the right in Washington elaborated, “Try that idea out on a McConnell staffer: I can’t get any of them to give me a serious reason why this isn’t a worthwhile strategy, at least to start with.”
It is grotesque for House Republicans not to be in Washington today, with so much at stake. Among many other things, House Republicans should begin crafting and promoting a long-term national-debt-limitation vehicle that would increase the borrowing ceiling in December, in exchange for implementing, say, the Penny Plan, which would cut federal spending by 1 percent each year for eight years, yielding a balanced budget thereafter.
Beyond neglecting such legislative priorities, the House this week is failing to hold public oversight hearings on, for starters, the burgeoning scandal surrounding Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D., Fla.) — the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee — and her recently dismissed computer-services aide Imran Awan. The Pakistani-born U.S. citizen faces federal bank-fraud charges and growing suspicions of espionage. Also, the House is long past due for its first hearing on Uranium One, the private company that then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton permitted to hand the Kremlin control of 20 percent of America’s uranium reserves, even as Uranium One’s investors delivered $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The Senate, to its credit, is in session today and Tuesday. It then adjourns for the rest of the week in honor of Rosh Hashanah, which begins at dusk Wednesday. In deference to Jewish members of Congress, both houses should have worked at least all of last week, through the weekend, and until Tuesday night, before resuming their duties as soon as this high holiday ended. This past Saturday could have been limited to hearings and debate, with votes occurring after shabbas concluded, at nightfall. That might be defensible.
Don’t forget: Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) forced the Senate to vote on Obamacare on Christmas Eve 2009. If such strategic ruthlessness comes in bottles, please send a case each to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — and invoice me. For senators, knowing that their House colleagues have split town surely must be as demoralizing as sitting at one’s desk while a less diligent co-worker’s office remains empty. “If Bob couldn’t be bothered to show up, I think I’ll take a long lunch and go home early.” The House’s absence today enervates the entire free-market conservative movement, which right now should be fired up, igniting grassroots support for tax reform and the rest of the GOP-Trump agenda.
If lazy congressional Republicans barely are trying, why should the rest of us?