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Congress not quite ‘do nothing’

VA reform pushed through before recess

By The Mercury

When the motivation is strong enough, members of Congress know how to set aside their partisanship and work together. They’ve done it for generations, and they did it again late last week.

Their recent motivation included both recognition that America’s veterans need attention and the pragmatic desire to spend as much of their August recess away from Washington as possible.

So they did a couple of things, one of which was noteworthy, before hitting the road. They approved and sent to President Barack Obama a $16.3 billion measure to reform the Veterans Administration. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was a step in the right direction for a system that has long defied real reform.

Lawmakers also did a couple of things that weren’t particularly noteworthy, though any action in a Congress that has passed fewer than 150 laws — the fewest in two decades — is worth mention. Especially given that almost one-third of those laws involved ceremonial actions, commemorations and renamings.

Lawmakers did approve a 10-month extension of the previous extension of the Highway Trust Fund. Unfortunately, the measure isn’t anything like the four-year $302 billion plan that President Obama had sent them in April and that might have done some long-term good. This is at least the 10th such extension. Congress committed $11 billion to the plan, which runs until May, and lawmakers probably hope the folks back home don’t focus on the fact the funding method involves a gimmick called “pension smoothing.” What’s important. apparently, is that Congress did something.

The House of Representatives did more, though it was hardly bipartisan. It approved a resolution to sue President Obama for exceeding his authority. That was about as difficult for the Republican-led House as passing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, something at which the House has became quite proficient in the last couple of years.

As for doing something constructive about all those Central American kids coming across our southern border or a host of other unfinished business, well, all that will have to wait a little longer. Or a lot longer. The recess bell has rung, and lawmakers won’t be back in Washington until after Labor Day.

They’ll take another big chunk of time off — most of October through Election Day — to try to persuade voters to send them back to Washington. Once back there, members of both parties will make a lot of noise while doing very little except trying to make their political adversaries look bad — for the good of the country, of course — and look forward to the next recess.

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