WASHINGTON — The most disliked, unproductive Congress in decades plans to leave Washington this week until after the November election, departing without agreements on virtually every big issue it deals with: taxes, defense, spending, farms, even post office policy.
Lawmakers spent Thursday pointing fingers and charging opponents with cynical political posturing. Among Congress' last decisions was a characteristic 2012 judgment: Punt action until later. It will let the farm bill, a broad measure that sets the nation's agriculture and food and nutrition assistance policies, expire Sept. 30.
Congress also exits without any serious effort to edge away from the "fiscal cliff," the prospect of economy-damaging budget chaos if it doesn't act by year's end. Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire, and automatic spending cuts will take effect unless alternatives are passed.
The public is noticing, as the legislative failures stir uncertainty and further roil an already-weak economy. This Congress' approval ratings were stuck at 13 percent in a Gallup survey Sept. 6-9, the lowest the pollster has ever logged this late in an election year since such measurements began in 1974.
Republicans and Democrats agree on this much: The inertia was spawned by the unusually hostile partisanship that's come to dominate political dialogue and debate.
The result of years-long trends, the parties have been all but purged of philosophical outliers.