WASHINGTON — It's August, do you know where your congressman is?
Not in Washington. Maybe not even in the country.
All that apocalyptic talk about a deadline to reach a deal on the debt ceiling overshadowed another target lawmakers were hoping to make: the start of their summer vacation.
Normally, the August "recess" is barely noticed. These, of course, are not normal times.
"They're running away from the duties they've been elected to do. They all should be fired!" said Sam Pannill, 74 of Largo, capturing what seems like widespread sentiment across the country, where Congress has a record-low 13 percent approval rating.
"Vacation? You've got to be kidding me," a woman in Boynton Beach wrote to Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. "Why are you going on a five-week vacation when you have not even done anything regarding jobs and the economy? When are you going to address these issues?"
Maybe President Barack Obama can force them back.
"The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C.," Obama said last week in Michigan. His sleeves were rolled up in an attempt to show he was working hard.
But the president is getting out of town, too. Thursday he begins a 10-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
The White House said Wednesday that he'll release a job-creating plan — next month.
And just try to find members of Florida's delegation.
This week Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, posted Twitter updates of her family roadtrip down the East Coast back to South Florida — "w/ my hubby, 3 kids, 4 dogs and our cat!" Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, took his wife and three sons to Yellowstone National Park.
Dozens of House members have gone on all-expenses-paid junkets to Israel.
Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Dennis Ross of Lakeland are there now, while Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Frederica Wilson of Miami recently returned. The trips were paid for by a foundation set up by the lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The August recess is a long tradition in Washington, and it's not all play time. Back home, lawmakers are putting on town halls, meeting with business leaders and holding news conferences announcing whatever scrap of good news they can find.
Rubio, who posted a video on his website responding to the letter criticizing his vacation, said he saw wisdom in getting around the state talking to people directly to stay "plugged in."
Still, with the debt issue looming and with the national unemployment rate still above 9 percent, could they be working in the Capitol?
"We must return to Washington and start session immediately," Rep. Allen West, an outspoken freshman Republican from South Florida, wrote this week in an e-mail to constituents. "Anything less is a failure in leadership, and I shall certainly be expressing my opinions to those who have titles, but possibly not the essential ingredients to lead."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, argued Tuesday that the House has passed legislation addressing jobs and the economy and blamed the Democratic-controlled Senate for holding them up. Senate Democrats blame the tea party-infused House for forcing bills lacking bipartisan support.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, agrees Congress should be working in Washington, but added, "it's out of our hands." That's a reference to the next round of budget cuts being determined by a 12-member "super committee," six from the House and six from the Senate.
The bipartisan panel has until Nov. 23 to come up with a plan to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade. If Congress fails to adopt it, automatic cuts will take place in uncomfortable areas, like defense and entitlement programs.
Stearns said the partisan gridlock that nearly hobbled the first round of cuts has left the public even more disgusted with Washington. "People are not saying, 'Run back to Washington.' But they do say, 'Washington should control spending, just like I do in my family.' "
Castor cited politics, too. "If I thought the tea party ideology would be loosened a bit . . . then I'd say let's get up there tomorrow. But I haven't seen any thaw." Even so, she said she was optimistic the committee could work together.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said jobs should be at the forefront. But he said there needs to be a specific plan to work with. "Unless they have something for us to do, just to stay up there and waste taxpayer money doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm prepared. I think a lot of members are prepared. But that's really up to the leadership of the House and the Senate."