CAPITOL HILL— Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are leaving Washington and senators are expected to depart soon for their home districts to campaign for re-election for the next seven weeks. Lawmakers are leaving a pile of unfinished business on major issues such as how to avert across-the-board cuts in government and defense spending.
Congress is set to leave town at one of the earliest points before a November election since 1960, and the departure comes on the heels of another seven-week recess in August and early September. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi organized a news conference with a number of Democratic lawmakers on the East Steps of the U.S. Capitol to criticize the Republican House leadership for deciding to depart so early.
'We are here standing together to recognize that since August 3rd, when Congress adjourned, and November 14th when we are being called back into session, we will have been in session only eight days. That is just not right. Democrats are prepared to stay until we get the job done," said Pelosi.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner blamed the Democratic-controlled Senate for the gridlock on Capitol Hill.
"Well you know, instead of them having this demonstration on the House steps, maybe they should have had it on the Senate steps. Senate Democrats have not done a budget for three and a half years," said Boehner.
Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer blamed Republicans for bringing up bills to deliver political messages instead of tackling the real problems Americans face.
"Republicans are leaving town with a stack of unfinished business the public expects us to get done. Chief among them are the need to create jobs and avert the fiscal cliff," said Hoyer.
The "fiscal cliff" refers to the Bush tax cuts that are expiring at the end of the year, and automatic across-the-board spending cuts due at the same time, which Congress approved as an incentive to get them to agree on a budget. Many economists say allowing the tax cuts to expire and the automatic spending cuts to take effect would plunge the U.S. economy back into a recession.
Speaker Boehner blamed President Barack Obama for what he termed a lack of leadership.
"President Obama's latest excuse is, 'Well, you can't change Washington from the inside.' Well, you actually can change Washington from the inside. It takes courage, it takes determination and it takes sincerity. And it is called leadership," he said.
American University Professor Allan Lichtman says he is not sure if Americans' approval of Congress can go much lower.
"I don’t see how they [voters] can be any unhappier with Congress then they have been, with approval ratings well under 20 percent. You know they have approval ratings lower than Attila the Hun. So I don’t think voters are going to focus on, you know, the particular failures of Congress. You’ve got to understand, that for all the anti-incumbent sentiment, the overwhelming major of incumbents are still going to, will, win," said Lichtman.
When members of Congress return after the November election, they will need to move quickly and will likely schedule some late night sessions to tackle the spending and tax issues they have failed to agree on so far. And they will know which ones of them will still have a seat in Congress next year.