Unless you work in DC, it’s tough to understand some of the unspoken signals that received from Capitol Hill. In recent days, lobbyists sniffing the air like animals anticipating a storm, immediately understood the latest message: We’re 100% into the race to October and recess until after the November 4 election.
We’re now feverishly calculating what, if anything, can/will be accomplished between now and the early October recess date. The man/woman on the street would assume Congress would try and get as much done as possible to have a stellar record at which to point as they campaign. Not so much; in fact, the mindset is more “do nothing, apologize for nothing.”
Consider the following: There are less than 80 calendar days until the October 2 target recess date; of that total, there are less than 20 congressional “work days,” keeping mind Congress works a short Tuesday-Thursday week. This tells us very little will be done prior to 535 members scuttling to airports in October, their party leaders having saved the controversial, the contentious, the ugly and the complex issues until the post-election lame duck session likely to begin just before Thanksgiving and end just before Christmas.
I heard this week the House GOP leadership told its caucus members to collect all solid candidates for what’s called the suspension calendar. This means bills so noncontroversial, American and apple pie that 218 votes – a majority of the House – is a given. Similarly, Senate leadership is putting together a list of noncontroversial issues and presidential appointments – judges, cabinet folks, and members of commissions, boards and the like, as well as the odd ambassador – to fill its calendar so as to appear busy.
As the end-of-July drop-dead date pre-August recess approaches, there will appear to be a frenzy of legislative activity because Congress acts only with a looming deadline. The same will happen toward the end of September as the October recess approaches. Whether all of the activity and noise leads to achievement is anyone’s guess at this point.
Major legislation that must be done includes the bill to give the administration more money to deal with the Texas immigration crisis. This issue will consume the rest of July. While there will be lots of public outcry, with noise very similar to that surrounding the broader immigration reform debate, this action should not be confused with comprehensive immigration reform, because that won’t be happening. Reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will be achieved, but FY2014 spending bills are dead in the water. Short of a miracle of bipartisanship and compromise, Congress will act in September to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running until well after the November election. Even then, it’s likely very few individual spending bills will be passed, rather another omnibus spending package will be enacted.
There will be no action to modify or repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and while the House continues to tack language onto bills to curtail EPA rulemakings on Clean Water Act (CWA) authority and greenhouse gas/carbon capture, the Senate will ignore those efforts. There will be no legislative remedies to FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rulemakings, and no energy legislation of any substance will see the light of day. This week it also became clear reauthorization of federal highway programs, those that fund state highway, bridge and urban commuter projects, could be reauthorized, likely during lame duck. Pre-election may see a short-term funding “fix” for the near-bankrupt Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through March or May, 2015, but no long-term funding solution.
Any legislative action in the lame duck session, of course, depends on how the numbers fall in November. If voters decide they like the GOP House, Democrat Senate set-up, it’s pretty the same ballgame.
However, while the House looks pretty safe for Republicans right now, if the GOP takes the Senate, then the lame duck could be the shortest in history. Only absolute must-pass legislation, such as an omnibus spending package, will be done; the rest will get punted into the 114th Congress in January. No Senate Republican will be of a mind to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) any kind of “legacy” wins.
For lobbyists — and I think the public at large — the good news is that anything not accomplished by the end of the session dies. All bills must be reintroduced, but all mischief ended.