How Much Will the Punch Line to This Joke Hurt?

The old joke, although some are not laughing too loudly, if at all, these days, is that democracy is safe when our elected reps and senators are away from Washington.

No joke because many actions in the capital have been, to put it mildly, counterproductive to employers and employees having the ability to succeed. No joke because there are so many issues that need to be addressed in a positive fashion.

The Chamber warned through several venues last week that lawmakers, just back from their extended August recess, were ready to hit the campaign trail once again. That seems to be the case, with this report from CQ Politics

Congressional leaders had a lengthy set of priorities for September, including a defense authorization bill, an immigration measure, food safety legislation, expiring tax policy extensions and fiscal 2011 appropriations. Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans in both chambers angled for action on additional bills dealing with energy issues, stem cell research and proposals to boost the stagnant economy.

And House Democratic leaders said they were ready to take up anything the Senate passed.

But by the end of last week, Democratic leaders had punted all those issues until after the Nov. 2 elections, setting the stage for a possible pre-election recess as early as Oct. 1. The only items left on the to-do list were a small-business tax and lending package and a stopgap appropriations measure — known as a continuing resolution, or CR — to keep the government running until lawmakers return in mid-November.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., said that completion of the $725.7 billion fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill would have to wait until after the elections. Republicans had signaled they would block the bill from even coming to the floor because they have not been allowed votes on their priorities.

Reid additionally put off action on the food safety measure until the November lame-duck session. “We are very limited in the time we have before the election,” he said.

Democrats have said they only hope to “debate” before the elections an extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that expire at the end of the year.

With the Senate gridlocked, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has based her chamber’s agenda on what the other body can pass.

Vote Update Comes With Lofty Price Tag

The August recess in Congress seems like a good time to replace the voting display board that dates back more than 30 years.

A statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office explained: "The implementation of the new main displays will provide the House of Representatives with a more dependable voting display that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it will ensure increased clarity and readability."

No mention of the cost there, although some digging back into testimony to House appropriators a year earlier reveals a $6 million price tag House Clerk Lorraine Miller said at that time that with the old board lawmakers’ names still needed to be physically rearranged whenever there was a change in membership, which she called a time-consuming process.

I’m all for saving time for clerks and making it easier to read votes (although if you know a representative’s party these days you can pretty much guess which way he or she is voting), but $6 million to get the job done? Wow!

Not Enough Time on Their Hands in D.C.?

Quirky Congressional calendars and policy stalemates are nothing new in Washington. For those of that mindset, it appears the rest of 2010 won’t be too upsetting. And with some of the damage Congress has inflicted on businesses of all sizes and their employees over the last few years, maybe that isn’t all bad.

In the House (which doesn’t return until Tuesday), it’s less than three weeks until the August break (starting a week earlier than normal). House members will not be back in Washington until mid-September, with a targeted adjournment date of October 8 in order to hit the campaign trail fulltime in the weeks leading up to the November 2 election. Are we looking at a lame-duck session in November or December — or no action on major items until 2011?

For the Senate, the legislative backlog includes:

  • Seeking two votes (Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe are the top targets) to move the financial regulatory reform conference report
  • A lending pool/tax incentives increase for small businesses, which was originally seen as an opportunity to address other financial issues — including the expiring Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003
  • A $75 billion war supplemental that faces a White House veto over issues unrelated to the original intent. The House added $16 billion, including $10 billion to local school districts to help avoid teacher layoffs. Part of the offsets feature recissions in education programs (among them Race to the Top); hence, the White House opposition

CongressDaily reports the following on that bill:

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye did not include funding for teachers in the measure the Senate approved in May because it was unclear if there was enough support to pass the bill. 

Supporters of the teacher funding will also have to overcome opposition from a group of 13 Democratic senators led by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who called the proposed cuts to education programs "unacceptable" in a letter to Inouye earlier this month.

"Choosing between preserving teacher jobs and supporting vital education reforms is a false choice and would set a dangerous precedent," the letter said.

Or school districts could utilize any number of other cost reduction methods instead of simply cutting teachers. If only that suggestion would become part of the common practice.