Congress on Thanksgiving Vacation Before Debt Ceiling

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Presides over the House passage of President Joe Biden's sweeping social and environmental bill on Friday.  The House is expected to return for votes on November 30.  (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Presides over the House passage of President Joe Biden’s sweeping social and environmental bill on Friday. The House is expected to return for votes on November 30. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)


Congress has no voice this week, even though the government is strapped for cash next Friday and is expected to hit its debt ceiling soon after.

This Thanksgiving break is Washington’s second big exodus for Congress this month. The House and Senate were out of session for Veterans Day the week of November 8. And they were gone for a week off in October.

What this timeline means is that “you get rapid policy development at the end of the process, where all the deals are done in the last few hours,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Center for Budget and Policy and a former research director for the National League of Cities in Washington.

“They should be there to do the usual things they’re supposed to do,” said Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy at the National Taxpayers Union.

Lawmakers are vigorously defending the calendar.

Margaret Mulkerrin, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Called the year “historically productive.”

She cited the House’s passage of the US bailout, which brought economic relief to the problems triggered by Covid, as well as a $ 1 trillion infrastructure package and Friday, the budget and the tax bill. of $ 1.75 billion.

“All of these accomplishments have been made possible by a rigorous House schedule with weeks of committee work – originally born out of necessity at the height of the pandemic – which allow House committees to hold hearings and (write) legislation without interruption to continue preparing legislation for Ground Consideration, ”she said.

In addition, some experts are more in need of members’ presence and services across the country on issues exacerbated by the pandemic, such as immigration issues and the maze of new and expanded federal programs to help people cope. the volatile economy.

Because of these pressing issues back home, “there is more at stake,” and so voters want help from lawmakers, said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, which studies Congress.

Too many corners?

The Senate formally met this year on January 3, met on January 6, and then met again on January 20.

He then broke for “District work periods”Which included a week in February for President’s Day, two weeks at the end of March and April for Easter and Passover, another week in early May and again around Memorial Day. It took two weeks in July for Independence Day. There was a recess from August to September for a month, one week in October for Columbus Day, and now two weeks in November.

When the Senate is present, weekly sessions generally begin at 3 p.m. on Monday and end mid-afternoon on Thursday.

The schedule should include more weekdays and even weekends in December as deadlines loom.

The Maison’s schedule was somewhat different and included 15 “weeks of committee work”. Fitch praised the weeks, noting that they allow members to attend committee meetings without having to be interrupted for votes. Seven other weeks are designated as district work periods.

Lawmakers regularly defend the calendar. “I don’t think the length of our stay here necessarily relates to our productivity,” said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas.

They say they have to be home. “It’s a strange position to be in a situation where most of your work is away from where you represent,” said Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa. “Sometimes people complain that they don’t see you enough at home. “

Last minute decisions of the House, the Senate

The practical effort of on and off programming is that big decisions can be made without much scrutiny.

“Members generally benefit when a bill has to go through a process,” Fitch said.

When the Senate returns for formal sessions on November 29 and the House the next day, the most urgent legislation is to keep the government funded and preserve its borrowing capacity.

The spending is supposed to be contained in a dozen appropriation acts, which are subject to review and negotiation throughout the year. Their legislation is supposed to go all the way to the House and Senate, which aim to pass bills by September 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

This almost never happens, forcing Congress to pass interim legislation. The last such measure expires on December 3.

Congress should again adopt a second best option. Otherwise, most governments shut down.

About two weeks later, another deadline looms, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this week the government is expected to exhaust its borrowing power on December 15. Unless the debt ceiling is lifted, defaults could seriously disrupt not only the economy of the United States, but the economy of the world.

But Congress shouldn’t be here until next week to officially deal with all of this.

It probably won’t be a problem, Cornyn said. “Partly it’s due to the nature of the beast that we’re throwing the box out on the road until we hit a deadline,” he said. “Then we miraculously do things. It may be human nature.

Lautz of the Taxpayers Union was not sympathetic. “Let’s not forget that they are paying members and staff to work on the legislation in Washington,” he said.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, California, Annapolis, Baltimore and since 1981, Washington.