Congress ill deserves a long break in view of its inertia - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

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Congress ill deserves a long break in view of its inertia

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Posted: Monday, July 26, 2004 6:51 am

The Republican-led Congress has knocked off for a six-week vacation. You can’t say the lawmakers earned it.

The budget, which was supposed to have been enacted last spring, has still not passed and at this late stage likely won’t be.

By now, the lawmakers should be well along in passing the 13 spending bills that fund government operations starting Oct. 1. They’ve passed one — defense — and that was on Thursday.

That means that Congress will probably be funding most of the government through a series of temporary spending bills and that, with no end in sight, wrap up all its unfinished business into a fiscal and legislative monstrosity called an omnibus spending reconciliation bill. They did last year.

Between the time the lawmakers come back after Labor Day and the time they knock off to campaign for re-election, tentatively Oct. 1, they simply don’t have time to finish all their work.

September, like the summer up until now, is likely to be marked by bitter and bloody infighting. But it won’t be the usual partisan stuff; it will be Republican vs. Republican and Republicans vs. the White House.

Because of White House objections, Congress still hasn’t passed the highway bill, now more than a year overdue. The House and Senate versions are both over $280 billion and the White House has threatened to veto anything over $256 billion. Whether President Bush’s using his very first veto to kill his own party’s highway bill is good campaign strategy is best left to the experts.

But campaign strategy was why the White House torpedoed congressional Republicans’ compromise on the tax cuts — a two-year extension of the child-care credit, a break for married couples and the expanded 10 percent bracket and a freeze of the alternative minimum tax. Many Democrats would have supported that and could have claimed some credit, although of the me-too variety.

But even that was too much for the White House, which demanded a five-year extension — opposed by many Democrats because of the huge cost down the road. (When Bush, if re-elected, would be out of office and the explosion in red ink somebody else’s problem.)

The White House is betting that it will get its way in September, but in that short period of time it wouldn’t take much to derail the five-year extension. As Sen. John Breaux, D-La., sagely observed, "This is a classic situation where, when someone advocates all or nothing, nothing generally wins."

All of this may have to be resolved after Election Day in a lame-duck session, in which case nobody, including the president, would get any political credit. It would serve them right.

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