A Congress best known for shutting down the government and the notorious sequester of government funds is about to claim another dubious distinction: the least productive session on Capitol Hill in post-war history. While the clock ticks down to the end of the year and the feuding continues, much of the nation’s business remains undone.
When the House returned this week from its Thanksgiving vacation (a vacation from what?), the 113th Congress had passed a mere 55 laws, few of major significance. Compared to this bunch of lawmakers — or rather, non-lawmakers — the deservedly maligned website of the Affordable Care Act seems like a model of efficiency and performance.
Unless it can vastly improve its output next year, this Congress is on track to be the least productive ever. We won’t hold our breath. Yet every now and then, members manage to surprise everyone by getting something done. On Tuesday, the House passed a new 10-year ban on firearms that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines. It was a badly needed bill, and a first for gun legislation since last year’s massacre at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.
The bill is not perfect because it lacks an important provision requiring metal parts to make the gun fire, but it won strong bipartisan support because both sides decided to compromise and pass something meaningful rather than do nothing.
Meanwhile, time is running out. The House is scheduled to be in session only until the end of next week. The Senate won’t return from recess until next week, but is scheduled to remain for most of the month. But if lawmakers in both chambers can overcome their partisan fervor for a brief spell — particularly in the Republican-controlled House — a long list of urgent matters requires their attention. Among the most important:
• The farm bill: This is must-pass legislation that sets policy for farm subsidies, food stamps and other rural projects. Without renewal, the price of milk will skyrocket, but some Republicans want to cut $39 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years. Forget about it. Pass a bill that with adequate support for farmers that doesn’t increase hunger in America.
• Budget and taxes. The best that can be achieved in the hyper-partisan Congress is a modest deal that gets rid of some of the worst sequester cutbacks and averts another shutdown in January. Go for it. No one benefits from another shutdown.
• Immigration. We know — chances of House action are virtually nonexistent, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of dealing with one of the nation’s most pressing issues. The House should pass a bill that can be reconciled later with a good bill already passed in the Senate. Sooner is better than later.
• Everglades. A water-resources bill remains in the hands of a committee trying to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation that includes support for the Central Everglades Planning Project and other vital waterways. A failure to enact this into law would be further proof of congressional dysfunction, considering that the bills won overwhelming support in both chambers.
There are many other important pieces of legislation crying for attention, including a bill that would avoid a disastrous cut in reimbursements for medical-care providers for Medicare recipients. Congress can’t make up for the harm caused by the shutdown and the sequester, but there is still time to mitigate the damage.