April 27, 2013

Congress leaves nation's problems behind

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Congress headed home this weekend for a nine-day break, leaving behind much of the trouble it was elected to help ease.

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The Associated Press

Remember the federal budget conflict? Lawmakers aren't even formally negotiating a compromise.

The automatic spending cuts known as the sequester? Lots of talk about the problems they cause, but this week the only relief went to the air traffic system, just as Congress headed home -- many members by way of the nation's airports.

Gun control? Forget it, for now. Immigration? See you in May.

Congress just returned to work April 8 after a 16-day recess for Easter and Passover. It stayed in session for about three weeks, then left again Friday for a spring recess that's scheduled to last until May 6.

Reasons for the latest exodus: Keep in touch with the folks back home, and allow lawmakers time to think about priorities and strategy.

This past month had promised to be more productive, or at least more collegial. President Obama hosted dinners with Republican lawmakers, and offered a detailed federal budget plan. Senate Democrats and House Republicans had already passed theirs.

The next step is for top negotiators from the two parties to sit down and figure out a common budget outline. That would become the blueprint for more specific spending and revenue decisions, and would guide Congress as it prepares a budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.

While some high-level talks proceed, Republicans won't appoint negotiators. Such delays are not uncommon, but this year is different. Three budgets are on the table, and the public is intensely interested.

Still, said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., there's no point in Republicans naming negotiators, known as conferees. "Democrats have drawn a line," he said. "They won't give on tax increases."

Obama and Senate Democrats have proposed raising nearly $1 trillion in revenue over the next decade.

The two big non®budget issues in the spotlight this month -- gun control and immigration -- also are to be continued. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin writing an immigration bill May 9.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled the gun bill a week ago after efforts to pass gun control measures fell far short of passage, and he vowed that it would return. No timetable has been set.

Why not work all this next week? After all, Congress' approval ratings remain dismal, and polls find that people continue to have little faith that lawmakers can get things done. Congress' Gallup poll approval rating this month was 15 percent. And 64 percent think that Congress is making things worse for the middle class -- only 8 percent think it's making things better -- according to an Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll this month. In other polls, Americans have supported congressional compromise.

Any bending on Capitol Hill, though, won't come until at least next month. And then only for another three weeks. On May 24, Congress is due to begin another nine-day recess.


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