Sun, Oct 02, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Progress in the US Congress is merely a matter of perspective

Congress has 11 appropriations bills left that have no chance of being passed during the lame duck session, so the US should prepare for a fight over funding

By Jennifer Steinhauer  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

To be fair, the US Congress averted a government shutdown a full two days before the lights were set to go out. So by contemporary standards, they are making great progress. There will be money to combat the Zika virus — seven months after US President Barack Obama asked for it and following a predictable fight over Planned Parenthood — and a promise of money to fix the water systems in Flint, Michigan, at some point, probably.

In its truncated session between a seven-week summer recess and the break lawmakers are taking before next month’s election, congress also got a single appropriations bill, which would help veterans, to the president’s desk. Just 11 bills left.

Lawmakers also managed to deliver the first veto override of Obama’s presidency, on a measure that would allow the families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot.

This might have been more exciting had all the lawmakers not raced out hours after the override to say what a terrible law they had all voted for.

However, this is congress, where the case for partisanship is upheld and defended best, and the leaders of both parties made their closing arguments on Thursday concerning who was more responsible for gridlock and which party was best positioned to lead next year.

“The Republican Senate has been a flop,” said US Senator Harry Reid, the US Democratic leader, subtle and gracious as ever to his colleagues across the aisle.

For their part, Republicans on Thursday ticked through a sort of greatest hits of their legislative accomplishments since taking over the Senate last year. They celebrated the passage of a revised version of the No Child Left Behind education law that chipped away at reviled, high-stakes standardized school testing, a long-term infrastructure bill and legislation granting Obama enhanced power to negotiate major trade agreements.

“I focused on the things that we had some bipartisan agreement on,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, summing up accomplishments he hopes his vulnerable incumbents can take on the road in their fall campaigns.

Working on the trade issue was “kind of an out-of-body experience — I was aligned with the president against Harry and Nancy,” he said, referring to Reid and US Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed the accolades, adding that some things he hoped that Congress could get done during the lame duck session, including a criminal justice overhaul, which McConnell had said 10 minutes before would in fact not be happening. Good intentions.

Those 11 appropriations bills left also have no chance of being passed during the lame duck session, so the nation should prepare for a fight over whether a big spending bill, known as an omnibus, or a series of smaller measures, referred to a minibuses, will be used to fund the government through the next fiscal year.

Republicans were pleased that they were able to get a stopgap spending bill to fund the government through Dec. 9 over the line without vast internal fights, fending off Democrats’ insistence that the measure include money for Flint, which has been put off until after the election.

You could hear the sound of one hand clapping.

“Averting a government shutdown with only days to spare is no reason to celebrate,” said Jeffrey David Cox Sr, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing 670,000 government workers. “Congress has merely kicked the can down the road for another 10 weeks, when we will face yet another budget showdown.”

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