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A Times Editorial

Congress takes a vacation from nation's problems

There's a good reason why voter approval ratings for Congress languish at around 17 percent. In the real world outside the insular Washington Beltway, Americans actually have to work in order to earn even a modest vacation. Not so for a deadlocked, do-nothing Congress, which skipped out of town a few days ago for a five-week holiday. They abandoned America's farmers and ranchers, put national security at risk and ignored a host of other issues left behind to gather dust on vacant desks.

Ostensibly, members of the House and Senate left for home to campaign for re-election. But on what record? As farmers and ranchers reel from a catastrophic drought gripping the nation, House and Senate leaders could not find common ground to pass a five-year farm bill that would have provided economic relief from lost livestock and lower crop yields. Even a short-term package that would have provided $383 million in emergency relief to livestock producers and some farmers passed the Republican-controlled House but died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Meanwhile, an important first step in establishing optional cybersecurity standards to protect computers that oversee critical infrastructure systems such as power grids, dams and transportation fell victim to a Senate Republican filibuster. Also left unresolved were a bill with bipartisan support providing greater protections for women against domestic violence, spending bills and a host of expiring tax laws. No time for farmers, ranchers, women and the rest of American taxpayers. There were planes to catch.

While lawmakers are enjoying their five-week holiday, they should send postcards from their vacation destinations. It might remind them that they left town without dealing with a $5.5 billion U.S. Postal Service default on payments to provide future retiree health benefits.

Congress is hardly overworked. The House is off the clock for recesses and retreats for nearly 200 days a year. The Senate has at least 72 days of recess time. And the average work week for our elected representatives when they do show up in Washington usually only runs Tuesday through Thursday — not a bad deal for $174,000 a year.

For that kind of money, Americans should expect their members of Congress to work as hard on the public's business as they do on their vacations and re-election campaigns.

Congress takes a vacation from nation's problems 08/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 6, 2012 6:02pm]
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