WASHINGTON — House and Senate lawmakers were scrambling to leave town Friday for a five-week recess with a failure to address the refugee crisis at the southern border, only the latest indignity of a year that may redefine congressional dysfunction.
The 113th Congress this week took another step toward ignominy as one of the least productive, most divided in history. Vocal anti-immigration Republicans were empowered, virtually dictating terms of two House border security bills even after party leaders had spent much of the year trying to marginalize them. The results were bills with no chance of becoming law, and ones diametrically opposed to the direction party elders had advised Republicans to go after their losses in 2012.
One measure, which would provide $694 million in funds to address the border crisis, passed Friday night in a 223-189 vote. It would also expedite the deportation of Central American children and bolster the National Guard's presence at the Mexican border. Another measure would effectively phase out President Barack Obama's program that offers temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. The vote on that bill was 216-192.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has virtually shut down the legislative process rather than subject politically vulnerable Democrats to Republican amendments designed to hurt them in November's elections.
In the House, the rush to accomplish even a relatively modest piece of legislation this week had a dramatic air, with members being summoned back from the airport as the new GOP leadership team worked to avoid embarrassment on the immigration bill. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was swarmed on the House floor Thursday night by angry members of his conference who demanded that he keep the House in session for as long as it would take to vote on a bill.
More broadly, Congress has given no indication that other major issues of the day will be confronted this year, even on matters where members of both parties agree action is needed.
The consequences of a Congress stuck in quicksand are becoming apparent.
Curtis Gans, who heads the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, said that if the first 25 primaries of this year hold true, midterm election turnout in November will be the lowest in history. Primary turnout has so far been 14.8 percent.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said, "People are convinced that nothing good is happening in Washington, D.C."