When Congress wants not to get something done—like, say, tackle hot button legislation that could prove awkward for certain members even to vote on—its favorite trick is to run out the clock.
Shucks! We so desperately wanted to pass this high-profile tax reform/health care plan/appropriations bill/take your pick, but we simply ran out of time. How disappointing.
You know they do this. I know they do this. More to the point, so does every lawmaker who has been on the job more than a couple of weeks.
The House Freedom Caucus has had enough. Appalled at how absurdly little legislative progress has been made this year—despite unified GOP control of the government—the ultra-conservative rowdies are pushing for the unthinkable: a cancellation of Congress’s summer break.
On June 6, Freedom Caucusers called on leadership to keep Congress in session until at least a couple of key agenda items got passed. Since then, caucus chairman Mark Meadows has been banging the cancel-recess drum all over town.
“There are so many things that are a priority legislatively for Congress to get done, whether true health care or tax reform or a number other things, like infrastructure or fixing the VA,” he told me Tuesday. “We took an official position primarily because the legislative calendar we’ve seen so far, as reflective of input from people we serve, has not been that robust. If that’s a good way to put it.”
An even better way to put it might be that the folks back home have made clear they’re fed up with Congress’s breath-taking incompetence.
“Confidence in Congress, whether it is a Democrat or Republican led Congress is at an all time low,” said Meadows. “People believe that it doesn’t matter which party is in power. It doesn’t matter who is in control. They don’t expect a whole lot to get done.”
Meadows is correct that voters don’t have much faith in Congress regardless of which party holds the reins. But the more pressing question for lawmakers is who gets blamed for the freak show. Let’s just say that, with the GOP controlling both chambers and the White House, its members are looking particularly twitchy these days.
You know who else is fed up with congressional failure? Donald Trump. Indeed, according to one Hill conservative who preferred to remain nameless, the president and his peeps are all for keeping lawmakers in town until they actually pass some major legislation. Or in official Congress-speak: “Conversations with senior administration officials would indicate a very supportive position of staying and accomplishing the president’s agenda.”
Trump may have been itching to waterboard Freedom Caucusers when they were screwing up his Obamacare plans back in March. But in this instance, he sees them as on the side of the angels—i.e., his side.
As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Trump on this one. With the congressional plate even fuller than usual—and nothing moving fast, if at all—why should lawmakers trundle off to the beach or the mountains or their cozy beds back home? Recess is for closers. Everybody else needs to suck it up and stay late until the work gets done.
And don’t blather to me about how the time members spend back in the district talking with real constituents is even more important than time spent in the Washington cesspool. That may be true in general, but being a functioning grown-up means figuring out how to prioritize. And when confronting a crazy number of mind-numbingly difficult policy issues to address in a short amount of time, says Meadows, “all of us [should] answer the question, ‘Is the best use of our time going back to the district for the month of August?’ ”
For many Democrats, the answer might well be yes. But for the ruling party? Not so much.
“It’s incumbent upon us break the mold and start to rebuild trust,” insisted Meadows. “What better way to do it than to, say, break the norm of going home for five weeks in August and the first part of September and actually work into the wee hours of the morning until we get things done?”
To this end, Meadows & Co. would like to see “a very definitive statement that says we’re going to accomplish x, y, and z before we leave in July or before we leave period.”
Is he optimistic this will happen? Of course not. The man’s not delusional. “I haven’t heard a whole lot of support coming from leadership,” he acknowledged.
“And if history is our judge,” he added, “there’s no way it will happen.” Meadows and his team have congressional researchers searching for past cases of recess being axed to allow more time for legislative business (as opposed to an emergency development). Thus far, they’ve got nothing.
No matter. At the very least, the caucus hopes to crank up the heat on leadership to accomplish something—anything!—of substance between now and the end of July.
And these days you never know what will happen. “It’s a unique time,” said Meadows, who has no intention of giving up. “I’m going to a meeting right now with the Speaker to push this very thing!” he said hopefully.
Good luck with that.