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Congress exits Washington to hit campaign trail

The most partisan, least productive Congress in memory has skipped out of Washington for the campaign trail. Left behind for a postelection session is a pile of unfinished business.

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The spending measure permits spending on agency operating budgets at levels agreed to under last summer's hard-fought budget and debt deal between Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans. That's 0.6 percent increase from current spending rates, which represents a defeat for House Republicans, who had sought to cut about 2 percent below the budget deal and shift $8 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon.

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Reid also relented to a months-long demand by tea party Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for a vote on suspending foreign aid to the governments of Libya, Egypt and Pakistan. Paul only got 10 votes. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., however, won sweeping approval of a nonbinding resolution supporting steps to make sure Iran doesn't develop a nuclear weapon.

It's the earliest pre-election exit by Congress from Washington since 1960, though lawmakers will return in November after the election to deal with its stack of unfinished work.

The approval rating for the current Congress in a Gallup poll earlier this month sank to just 13 percent, the lowest ever for an election year. The GOP-controlled House and Democratic Senate managed to come together with Obama to enact just 173 new laws. More are coming after the election, but the current tally is roughly half the output of a typical Congress.

Even so, political pundits say Republicans are strong favorites to keep the House while Democratic chances of keeping the Senate are on the upswing with Obama's rise in the polls.

The exit from Washington leaves the bulk of Congress' agenda for a postelection session in which it's hoped lawmakers will be liberated from the election-year paralysis that has ground Capitol Hill to a near halt.

Topping the lame-duck agenda was dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff, which combines the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on Dec. 31 and more than $100 billion in indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts set to strike at the same time as punishment for the failure of last year's deficit "supercommittee" to strike a deal.

Also left in limbo is the farm bill, stalled in the House due to opposition from conservative Republicans who think it doesn't cut farm subsidies and food stamps enough and Democrats who think its food stamp cuts are too harsh.

The current farm act expires on Sept. 30 but the lapse won't have much practical effect in the near term. Still, it's a political black eye for Republicans, especially those from farm states like North Dakota and Iowa.

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