Maybe there’s something to the number 13. The present session of this Congress, the 113th, is on schedule in 2013 to be the least productive since World War II. So far, lawmakers have approved just 55 laws. By this time last year, Congress had passed more than 280 laws.
Could be the government shutdown in October was a factor, but a more likely culprit is the partisan feuding that contributed mightily to the shutdown. Another factor is the relative paucity of days members of this Congress have been at work. Before this week, the House and Senate were in session 142 days this year. By this time two years ago, the House had been in session 170 days and the Senate 175 days.
While most Americans have reason to be disappointed — and have given Congress icy ratings for effectiveness — the tea partiers on the Hill, who seem to think the only good law is one that doesn’t exist, are content with Congress’s inaction.
As for the outlook, the House, which returned from its Thanksgiving recess Monday, is scheduled to quit for the year at the end of next week. The Senate took a prolonged Thanksgiving break and will return Monday for several weeks. That leaves one week of overlap. We hope it’s a productive one.
Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, told ABC News over the weekend that “getting a budget deal and making sure we don’t default when the budget ceiling comes around” is the “most important priority.” When a truce ended the last shutdown, lawmakers gave themselves a deadline of Dec. 15, which gives them next week to work something out. A reasonable deal would be one that not only wards off another shutdown in mid-January but that also confronts some of the most painful cutbacks associated with the sequester.
A budget agreement isn’t the only bit of unfinished business, however. Passage of the farm bill also ought to be a priority. The farm bill determines policy for farm subsidies and other rural projects. Another key element is the food stamp program, a program that Republican lawmakers, many of whom have never experienced chronic hunger, want to cut by $39 billion over the next 10 years.
Legislation on other important issues, including immigration reform, also awaits action, but those will almost certainly have to wait until next year. Quick action might ruin Congress’s reputation.