A Time to Retreat
Despite Legislative Priorities, Congress Is Taking Some Breaks
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Congress, this week and next, is literally retreating from the issues.
Returning from a five-week break from legislative activity, the Senate promptly held one vote last night and then set aside key policy issues until next week. Senate Republicans today will cross First Street to huddle in the Library of Congress for their annual day-long policy retreat. If the Senate punts on a terrorist surveillance plan until next week, many senators from both sides of the aisle plan to flee the nation's capital and jet to Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, held in the posh ski town of Davos.
Across the Capitol, the House gaveled into session yesterday and held votes to rename three post offices, condemn the slave trade and commend the U.S. Coast Guard for fighting drug trafficking. It also passed a nonbinding resolution stating that the federal government has a "moral responsibility" to care for "those persons, groups and communities that are impoverished, disadvantaged or otherwise in poverty."
But the chamber will shutter tonight, allowing House Republicans to head to their issues retreat later this week at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. After reconvening Monday in time for President Bush's annual State of the Union address, the House will shut down Tuesday night so Democrats can hold their own three-day resort retreat in Williamsburg.
All this retreating has left little time for actual legislating, a rare occurrence this early in a congressional session even in the best of times. But, with U.S. and global markets in a subprime-mortgage-driven crisis, congressional leaders have been striking a rare bipartisan tune in their effort to approve an economic stimulus plan mixed with tax breaks and increased spending worth about $150 billion.
In fact, administration officials and congressional leaders voiced little doubt yesterday that a stimulus plan would be approved. The big dispute was over how to frame their efforts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters the ultimate measure would be "timely, targeted and temporary," but House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) confessed to preferring that it be "simple, fast and focused."
However, it will not be so "fast" or so "timely" that it will pass next week or even the week after, since the details of the package have yet to be hammered out -- and since both chambers will not be in for a full week's session until early next month. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) set a target date for passing the stimulus plan: Feb. 15.
That would be the last legislative day before both chambers, yes, go on a weeklong recess for Presidents' Day.
"We need to have something on the president's desk by then," Reid said.