For Congress, a Dysfunctional Summer

Posted on August 6, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

By Scott Orr

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. (left) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.

It’s not like we haven’t been over this before, but here we go again with electioneering on Capitol Hill. Following historic precedent, the Congress spent the summer fully engaged in the November election, voting on symbolic issues they hope will help their parties in the fall instead of, oh, I don’t know, legislating in the public interest.

Everyone knows that in terms of legislating, these votes are worthless. But where they do have value is on the campaign trail, in political ads and on the talk shows.

Last week, the House passed a plan to extend all expiring individual income tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year. A rival Democratic bill, approved by the Senate, would maintain some lower tax rates but increase tax rates on the wealthiest. The bill passed largely along party lines, though 19 Democrats joined their GOP colleagues in backing the measure.

This bill is aimed at preventing the tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 from returning to their prior levels at year’s end. The Senate bill would extend the tax cuts only for those with income up to $250,000 and restores higher rates on income above that level. The House bill keeps the cuts in place for all Americans.

The House followed up its vote on tax cut measure with a vote calling for an overhaul of the entire tax code in 2013, which is certainly a good idea and one both parties support. Again, the dispute is over how to tax the richest Americans. The Republican plan would slash rates to a maximum rate of 25 percent for the highest earners.

Oh, and let’s not forget the House’s vote to overturn Obamacare, on that was so far removed from reality that it gave new meaning to the term “symbolic.”

But wait, the House wasn’t through there. In its final vote, the House could not even agree to adjourn, with all Democrats and a third of the Republicans voting against a motion to adjourn. Of course they all left town anyway.

When Congress returns, it will be in session for only three weeks before the Nov. 6 election and most of that period will be taken up passing a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. That’s because the Congress failed, as it always does, to approve federal spending bill before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

Not that anyone’s looking beyond the election, but there is a good chance that some interesting legislative drama is going to play out during a lame duck session, with the fate of the tax cuts at center stage. But predicting what will happen in a lame duck session is a fool’s game.

It doesn’t really matter who wins or loses, the outcome is going to prompt one party to push for action, the other to try to stop it. But at least the election will be behind us and, maybe, legislating will replace politicking up on the Hill.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at

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