After working hard to avoid the hard work of finding common ground on a variety of important issues, Congress is heading out on summer vacation. The good news is that the annual recess is a time when lawmakers return home and avail themselves to their constituents, who may take the opportunity to tell them face-to-face whether they are deserving of time off from the rigors of Washington.
A large swath of America is frustrated by gridlock at the Capitol, and this year's August adjournment may put members of Congress in a position to hear about that frustration directly from the people who sent them to Washington in the first place.
A survey of Senate members by the Congressional Management Foundation revealed that for most senators, the break is not about recreation but constituent contact. Senators say they will spend an average of 60 hours a week working during the recess, much of that work involving meetings with individuals, constituents and citizens' groups. To the extent such encounters result in direct feedback from voters, that's a good thing.
Most of the year, the men and women of Congress are hostage to an insular world that serves as an echo chamber to reinforce the respective ideologies of the individual members. And unlike a choreographed campaign visit, the summer recess often takes senators and representatives to the very trenches of civic life where they might encounter direct comment on the work they have done — or as is the case at the present time — the work they haven't done.
Unfortunately, the redistricting processes in many states has created districts that tend to be filled with voters who support the incumbent. Still, we wonder if even sympathetic voters aren't a bit frustrated by the lack of action on key matters.
The list of labor not loved is long. Immigration reform is stalled. Another fiscal crisis looms as a spending deadline approaches. Key executive appointments have gone unaddressed. A last-minute move to approve alterations to student loan programs is the only work done on deadline with any sense of urgency.
That may or may not foreshadow movement on other issues once the recess ends, but it seems the greater momentum still favors a commitment to congestion. The House Speaker recently opined that Congress should be judged not for the number of laws it passes, but for the number of laws it repeals. We think that's setting the bar pretty low, given the gravity of the issues lingering in the 2013 term.
For one, Congress will sooner or later have to address the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. A move in the Senate to combine adjustments to the spending cuts in connection with adjustments to entitlement programs offered some hope of forward progress. We'll see if that momentum resumes after the month-long hiatus.
The 113th Congress suffers from the lowest public approval rating since such ratings were compiled. The lack of productivity is certainly among the reasons why. That's something members of Congress would be wise to ponder as they head out on their summer break.