Last week, the House and Senate closed up shop for the next seven weeks. They will not return until after Labor Day. That’s nearly two months gone from Washington.
Throughout my 34 years in the U.S. House and Senate, I placed a high value on traveling back to my home state of Maine nearly every weekend and on congressional break periods, to hear firsthand the concerns and aspirations of my constituents. It was how I remained grounded and in sync with those who elected me to serve as their voice in Washington.
Sometimes, these interactions occurred in town hall style meetings. In many other instances, it was much less formal: street tours where I would talk with shop owners and local citizens, or even talking impromptu with fellow shoppers at my local supermarket.
So I understand the necessity of getting beyond the Beltway and out of the Washington bubble. But I also know firsthand that accomplishing what we were sent there to do – to solve problems — requires spending enough time in session to work through the very difficult process of legislating and transcending political differences.
It’s not as though Congress has been on a tear lately and deserves a breather to re-charge its batteries. As an article last week in the New York Times stated about Congress leaving town: “But first, they will try to accomplish a little business, though the prospects are not good.”
The piece went on to reference the list of spending legislation that remains unresolved: “The continuing deadlock over the spending bills makes it inevitable that Congress will again have to assemble a short-term spending package in September to fund the government until after the November election.”
There is only so far the legislative “can” can get kicked down the road before it falls permanently into a ditch. And it is already teetering on the precipice.
A couple of weeks ago, “The Daily 202” column of the Washington Post concluded that, “…nothing much will get done in the remaining days Congress will be working this year. But that’s something voters have come to expect anyway.”
The tone of resignation that passage suggests is as unsettling as it is unacceptable. We cannot accept this level of gross legislative negligence in our governing institutions – not now, not ever. But if we don’t say “enough is enough” with our words and our votes, who will?