The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 6, 2012

Other Views: Taking break from inactivity


Scripps Howard News Service

— After seven months of short work weeks and near-zero accomplishments, Congress has awarded itself a five-week vacation, deferring a series of tough legislative decisions until the members return after Labor Day, presumably tanned, rested and ready to go.

As The Associated Press reported, the fractious Republican-led House couldn’t even agree to adjourn but left town anyway, leaving behind an unfinished drought-relief bill for cattle and sheep ranchers, who are now simply out of luck until September at the earliest.

The House leadership threw together a $383 million short-term package of loans and grants, but the Senate, noting that it had passed a full five-year reauthorization of the farm bill in June that the House ignored, refused to act.

The lawmakers were also unable to stay around to reach agreement on a high-priority cyber-security bill, although the sticking points in both the House and Senate — how big a role government should play in protecting private businesses — seem quite capable of resolution. The lawmakers say they’ll get around to that one, too, in September.

The Senate Finance Committee approved an extension of $200 billion in special interest business tax breaks, although to its credit it is allowing the tax break for ethanol producers to expire.

The House went on record favoring a top income tax rate of 25 percent and repealing many of the Senate-approved tax breaks. Don’t look for any agreement on those bills come September.

Both sides set the stage for the major tax confrontation of the fall — whether to extend some or all of the Bush-era tax breaks. The House voted this past week to renew all the cuts, which expire Jan. 1, while the Senate eliminated tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000 a year.

The lawmakers left town with no progress made in dealing with the “fiscal cliff” —  automatic spending cuts agreed to in a budget deal last summer that the military says will gravely cripple national defense and many economists believe will push the country into another recession.

There was one rare moment of bipartisanship and comity. The House and Senate leadership won a vote giving Congress another six months to pass the spending bills to run the government that were due to expire Oct. 1.

So there’s plenty for Congress to do when it gets back in September. It has scheduled itself to work eight days that month.

Scripps Howard News Service