But the number of legislative disputes that they have failed to resolve while they have been failing to craft a budget deal is equally striking. They include reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, renewing a sweeping farm bill and reforming the U.S. Postal Service.
Congress’s inability to solve even the stuff that used to be considered routine in Washington portends trouble for work on broader legislative initiatives like immigration reform or new gun control laws next year, when Republicans will continue to have solid control of the House and the Democrats’ majority in the Senate will expand by two seats.
And it leaves lawmakers themselves deeply discouraged with the pace of their own accomplishments.
“It’s been like watching paint dry,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) of Congress’s action.
Asked whether he was frustrated by Congress’s pace, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sighed. “It’s the least productive time in your life, and you’re 65 years of age. What would you think?”
The Violence Against Women Act, which outlines spending priorities for programs that aid abuse victims and prosecute their abusers and has been reauthorized without fanfare twice before, lapsed more than a year ago.
One version of the bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support; a competing GOP version was adopted by the House. The two sides have not been able to reconcile their differences.
The nation’s cash-strapped Postal Service continues to hemorrhage money. But Congress has not managed to agree to reforms widely believed likely to stabilize the service, including ending Saturday deliveries and beginning to shutter thousands of tiny post offices.
The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April that would do just that, but the issue has gone nowhere in the House amid a dispute over how to handle future worker compensation claims from injured postal employees.
If no bill is passed by midday on Thursday, when new lawmakers elected in November officially take office, Congress will have to start work on the issue all over again.
And milk prices are set to potentially double if Congress can’t agree to renew a sweeping farm bill by Tuesday, which outlines agriculture subsidies and governs the nation’s food-stamp program.
Hopes for adopting a new five-year measure that would significantly trim government payments to farmers have dimmed. Now, lawmakers are striving to pass only a patch to last for a few months and forestall the milk crisis.
That would match a pattern of this Congress, which has repeatedly agreed to brief extensions of the status quo on a host of issues when negotiations over long-term fixes have fallen apart.
“I don’t think either party — and I’d throw the president in there — can be proud of what’s gone on for the last few years,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), who decided not to run for reelection in November in part because he had become disenchanted at the inability of the parties to work together.