Congress won’t get much done before August recess. This is not a new development.

Congress is working out the details of many contentious bills this week, including highway funding, immigration issues, spending appropriations and Veterans Affairs funding. It's doubtful that it will all get done. Mean things will be said. Fights will be had, and regretted. And then, finally, everyone will get to go home.

Everyone blames the current Congress -- with its dismal approval ratings and gift for not accomplishing things -- for the hold-up, but that's a bit harsh. Legislators, like everyone else in the world, gets a little antsy before vacation. And there are things that don't get done that probably should have. But they'll get them done later, right?


This is what the Capitol will look like during August recess, which is almost here. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

This is definitely not a new development. Whenever the end of July draws near, the time of setting stages, discordant notes, struggles and political implications is nigh.

Here is a short history (from the Washington Post and other newspapers) of Congress not getting things done before August recess, and everyone noting how they didn't get anything done before recess because recess.

And, just a warning, some of the links -- especially those from over a century ago -- go to articles behind a paywall.

2014: "Mid-July having arrived, it's time to get out of here. It's vacation time, and I've earned it. Unfortunately, I can't say that about the good folks in Washington. With Congress' recess set to begin July 31, the list of unfinished items includes not only perennials such as an immigration overhaul but a couple of items that rank high with business yet seemingly have lost their Beltway magic."

2013: "With three days left on the calendar before lawmakers leave Washington for a five-week summer break, there is still no agreement on a farm bill, no plan on how to fund the government after September and little progress on immigration reform."

2010: "With sweeping overhauls of health care and financial regulation, along with a $787 billion emergency stimulus package, the 111th Congress ranks among the most productive Congresses ever - on big-ticket items. And though senators chalked up a few more accomplishments in the hours leading up to their August recess, they still left town with some 350 bills passed by the House awaiting their attention. For most, action will never come - a reality that has some House members grinding their teeth more than usual this election year."

2008: "Lawmakers sped for the exits yesterday as Congress was to begin a five-week recess after a summer session noteworthy for bitter partisanship and paralysis on the issue topmost in the minds of many voters: the cost of gasoline."

2007: "Congress stumbled toward its August recess on a discordant note Friday as angry partisanship and distrust slowed the House and Senate in the latest example of the ideological standoff that has made progress difficult all year.

2006: "GOP leaders were scrambling yesterday to bolster a thin list of legislative accomplishments before the House recesses tonight for a five-week summer break. But a minimum-wage deal was far from certain, and pension legislation was near collapse. Last night's struggles underscored the divisions in Republican ranks that leaders had hoped to paper over before the August recess."

2005: "In a mad dash to rack up some accomplishments before Congress leaves town for its five-week August recess, the Senate on Tuesday temporarily abandoned work on a defense policy bill and took up a measure, likely to pass and laden with political implications for Democrats, that will shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits."

2004: "Halfway through the year, Congress has spent its time on a mix of politics and business, but leaves for the remainder of summer with some major work yet unfinished. Lawmakers return after Labor Day and plan to break again Oct. 1."

2003: "Senate Republican leaders will try this week to pass a massive energy package sought by President Bush and are threatening to force colleagues to delay a cherished August recess until the work is done."

1999: "Like restless students yearning to burst out the schoolhouse door, members of Congress are preparing to quit the steamy capital today for a month's vacation, leaving many of their toughest assignments unfinished."

1998: "A CONGRESS that has spent all year carefully accomplishing almost nothing now leaves town for a month's vacation. The Senate began its August recess Friday; the House is to follow this week. Having killed tobacco legislation, danced around campaign reform, sidestepped the managed care question, brushed aside the president's child care proposals and failed even to agree on a budget for the fiscal year ahead -- well, they need the rest."

1997"'Good thing we met so close to recess,' says Kristin Accipiter, 25, communications director for Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.), to Patrick Bowl, 28, legislative assistant for Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.). 'It's the only time you have a life,' she says sweetly. 'You might as well take advantage of it.'"

1991: "The slow deliberations threw into doubt whether the panel could complete the effort before its August recess, a delay that would be a political setback for the legislation."

1990: "The main issue at the highest levels of government this week has not been the deficit or the savings and loan bailout or the defense or campaign finance or farm or housing or civil rights bills. It has been the images of the two parties as Congress prepares to leave town for the month of August with much of the government's business undone and an election approaching. To what extent will each party have to play defense until the government starts up again; to what extent can each position itself to take the offensive?"

1989: "House leaders saw little hope yesterday that the fractious dispute over capital gains taxes can be settled before legislators leave for their August break."

1987: "As Senate Republicans enter their second month of what Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) grimly calls an 'obstructionist . . . scorched-earth' strategy to thwart Democratic initiatives, Byrd is planning to strike back where it could hurt most. For starters, Byrd is threatening senators with loss of recess time-including a delay of their month-long August vacation and an indefinite postponement of the early-October adjournment target-if Republicans continue to block action on Democratic proposals from arms control to campaign financing."

1985: "With a compromise budget plan safely in hand, members of Congress began fleeing the heat and acrimony of the nation's capital today for a month-long recess."

1979: "Once again, Congress is abandoning a hot and muggy Washington for its summer recess, leaving behind a stack of unfinished Carter administration energy proposals."

1975: "Congress has quit for its traditional August recess on a note of institutional triumph, having successfully rebuffed President Ford on several foreign and domestic issues; but its sense of satisfaction is unjustified."

1960: Congressional leaders officially gave up hope yesterday of winding up the session before the conventions. They announced plans to recess Congress this weekend and to come back in August to finish their work."

1960: "Whether the measure has any chance in the Senate remains to be seen at the August session. The long night's maneuvering over the sugar bill was characterized by intensive lobbying and doldrums of inactivity in the floor. Both Senate and House recessed for long periods while conferees met, and many members seized the occasion to nap."

1958: "Congress is about the engage in a long and intensive adjournment drive in the hope of getting out of town by mid-August. The July Fourth holidays next weekend will probably mark the final pause before what is known here as adjournment fever sets in."

1944: "Congress will convene today after a recess of more than a month. Some of the Congressional leaders seem to have beein taking the duties of Congress rather lightly."

1929: "Tired and irritable, members of Congress will make their getaway from Washington today for their summer recess ... Whether the rest they are about to take has been well earned is a question, of course, on which Republicans and Democrats would never agree, but that the rest will be needed must be conceded by all, for the members will come back to face one of the grandest tariff fights in history."

1929: "The unanimity with which Senators and Representatives have embraced the chance to escape Washington's midsummer heat has been a revelation to party leaders."

1921: "Another obstacle to the proposed vacation was rising opposition among both Republican and Democratic Senators because of the state of several pending bills."

1919: "Repeal of the war tax on ice cream, soda water and fruit juices and the passage of the resolution for a House adjournment during August developed into a political field day, with the Democrats the aggressors. The Republican leadership in the House was their chief target, and speaker after speaker among the minority members taunted their Republican colleagues for failure to redeem their promises and to act in harmony."

1918: "Both Senate and House are to meet unusually early today in an effort to dispose of appropriation measures carrying money needed with the beginning of the new fiscal year. Leaders hope to finish imperative legislation and recess Wednesday, but it is regarded as more probable that Congress will be unable to get away before Friday or Saturday."

1911: "Those behind the recess scheme have begun proselyting in the Senate, and are making headway. The more aged and luxury-loving of the solons looks with dread upon a midsummer session, and the suggestion of a three-month recess fills their souls with new hope and courage."

1888: "The hot weather has struck Congress a square blow from the shoulder, and Congress has not energy enough left to withstand the shock. The Senate yesterday met in a most perfunctory manner, transacted little or no business, interrupted its session with a recess and finally adjourned until next Monday. There was no spirit in the proceedings of the House. All the doors and windows were thrown wide open to catch the stray breezes, and the members lounged in their chairs or on the sofas, fanning themselves vigorously all the while. Many of them appeared in the least possible amount of clothing consistent with dignity and decency, and scores of them wore wilted collars and cuffs. Quite a number were attired in loose jackets over flannel shirts. Very few of the 150 members present paid any attention to pending legislation.""

 

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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