Congress can’t work in August — it’s against the law. We’re not joking.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cast doubt Monday on whether Congress would have time to pass an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs and deal with the border crisis before the Aug. 1 congressional summer recess, our colleague Ed O’Keefe reported.

Wait a minute! Is there some provision in the Constitution — a secret Amendment XXVII.5? — that forbids these hardworking lawmakers to exert themselves into August?

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Well, no. But, as it turns out, there is indeed a law, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, that says the House and Senate shall call it quits “not later than July 31 of each year or, in the case of an odd-numbered year,” take off “from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September (Labor Day) of such year to the second day after Labor Day.”

(The statute says it’s inoperative when a “state of war exists pursuant to a declaration of war by the Congress,” but such a declaration hasn’t happened since 1941.)

The reason for the 1970 law, according to a brief history of the August recess by the associate Senate historian, Betty Koed, is that sessions “had crept well into autumn” by the early 1960s. “In 1962,” she wrote last July, “the Senate met from January to October with no recess.” The next year, it started in January and adjourned in December with no break longer than a three-day weekend. “Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said he no longer recognized his wife during daylight hours,” Koed wrote.

Younger members, led by Sen. Gale McGee (D-Wyo.), pushed through the 1970 law, which was first invoked on Aug. 6, 1971. Since then, Congress has typically complied with it, recessing before the first week of August and returning after Labor Day.

But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers can’t come back if both houses agree to do so.

“There have been rare cases when they’ve come back mid-recess,” Koed wrote, such as when they returned in 2005 to pass some legislation to help out folks devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, our lawmakers are exhausted after a grueling few months of posturing and bloviating. And our hearts go out to them. But veterans and kids? Really?

Spending to boast about

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) strongly defended his earmarking record while facing a far-right primary challenger who attacked him as a big-government spender. Now that he’s pretty much safe for another six years, Cochran remains unapologetic.

The senator’s flaunting it must make his defeated challenger, Chris McDaniel, roll in his proverbial political grave.

Of course, there haven’t been actual earmarks since 2011. But if you’re the type of lawmaker who heralds sending federal dollars home, there’s still plenty of opportunity to boast.

When the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its ­$549.3 billion defense appropriations bill late last week, Cochran’s office bragged in a news release about what would directly benefit Mississippi. There’s $800 million for a new warship to be built in the state. His office noted funding over and above the White House budget request for programs that benefit other Mississippi military projects and bases.

Among the 14 Senate Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska.), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and John Hoeven (N.D.) also issued statements declaring victory that certain line items of defense funding would trickle down to their states. While the senators aren’t inserting specific handpicked projects the way they did in the old days, appropriators still retain the ability to, in effect, direct money to favored initiatives.

Plenty of Democrats also say they oppose earmarks, but it’s Republicans who often are attacked in primaries over government spending.

More telling about today’s Congress is the fact that 10 GOP appropriators did not want credit for their work. Especially since it was a Pentagon spending bill, which used to be full of pork — in 2010, it had 1,735 disclosed earmarks, the second most of that year’s 12 appropriations bills, according to data from Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Back then, before the earmark moratorium, Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), who is now the ranking Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, issued four news releases announcing the billions of dollars in defense funding he’d secured for regions in his state. This year, his office released a short statement focused partly on the need to rein in spending on entitlement programs. No mention of benefits to Alabama.

Blood and partisanship

There were only a few ways Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) could react to HBO’s “True Blood” portrayal of Texas Republicans being murdered at a fictitious Cruz fundraiser.

He could have ignored it, or laughed it off. But he went political.

A scene in Sunday’s episode took place at the George W. Bush Presidential Library, where a Cruz function was being held. The vampires who went made disparaging comments about the Republicans in attendance (Hollywood — what would you expect?) and then there was a bloodbath. (We admittedly do not watch “True Blood,” so we can’t offer further context.)

Cruz, not known for mincing words, shot back on social media several times Tuesday, drawing a comparison between the undead and Democrats. On his Facebook page, Cruz wrote:

“Of all the places I never thought to be mentioned, HBO’s True Blood vampire show would have to be near the top of the list. Sunday night, they aired a misogynist and profanity-ridden episode where Texas Republicans are murdered attending a ‘Ted Cruz ­fundraiser.’

“Well, I’m sorry to have lost the vampire vote, but am astonished (and amused) that HBO is suggesting that hard-core leftists are blood-sucking fiends.”

Apparently he didn’t think he’d quite gotten his point across, because less than two hours later, Cruz tweeted: “Then again, I guess I never had a chance w/ the vampire vote since the dead tend to vote overwhelmingly for Dems.”

Only a true politician could spin a vampire massacre into an allegation of Democratic voter fraud.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics