Congress Doesn’t Deserve Recess
Sweltering heat and humidity, droves of lost tourists, seersucker suits, fireworks and farmers’ markets—all tell-tale signs that it is summer in the District of Columbia. Another indicator of summer is the conspicuous absence of members of Congress—distinguished by their congressional pins, harried appearances, and trailing staffers. The onset of summer in the District signals the end of the congressional “work” period and the return of members to their home states and districts—a phenomenon known to D.C. insiders as “recess.” This break, which traditionally runs from mid-late July until the Labor Day holiday, is also a time for vacation for members and staffers—an opportunity to escape from the heavy obligations of lawmaking to enjoy sun and sand. But—do members of Congress really deserve a recess?
Poor behavior and incomplete work should not be rewarded with play time. Members of Congress should not “get” recess—instead, they should come back to the sweltering heat of D.C. and get their work done, and this is why:
Inability to Play Well with Others
Instead of advancing legislation to provide relief for the Zika virus—a worldwide public health threat—many members of Congress seized this crisis as an opportunity for political posturing and targeting of our nation’s critical public health infrastructure by advancing a bill that fell far below the amount needed to address the Zika outbreak—$800 Million below President Obama’s February funding request to be exact. The House of Representatives passed a bill that was paid for by taking away critical funds for administration of the nation’s health infrastructure and defunding the very clinics that could provide women with the critical reproductive health services needed during this outbreak.
The Senate rejected the House measure by a vote of 52 to 48. But, members of the House refused to play nice and come back to the table to draft a bipartisan measure that would provide the support needed to address the outbreak without compromising our nation’s health infrastructure or women’s access to health care. Instead, defiant members packed up and headed out for a seven-week recess.
In addition to the inability to play well with others, members of Congress also engaged in behavior that can only be described as bullying. Bullying should not be rewarded by a “recess.” The House held a hearing on the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA), a discriminatory bill aimed at undermining existing civil rights law, one month from the date of the tragic shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that claimed the lives of 49 people and left 53 individuals injured.
The bill targets LGBTQ individuals and unmarried individuals by legislatively sanctioning discrimination based on moral or religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sexual relations should not occur outside of such marriages. The bill invites discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The bill would negatively impact women, including LGBTQ women, unmarried women who use contraception or become pregnant, and unmarried pregnant women—all who could be targets for discrimination that the federal government would be prohibited from opposing under the bill. Proving the adage that misery loves company, Senator Lee introduced the Senate version of the House bill, which would extend the same kind of discrimination allowed under the House bill to non-profit federal contractors.
After the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights concluded that it was not discriminatory for the state of California’s Department of Managed Health Care to provide coverage for abortion as part of basic health services, some House members had something close to a temper tantrum—complete with statements to the press and the firing off of an angry letter to HHS. Then, they passed a harmful bill that would impose barriers on access to reproductive health services, including abortion, for women under the guise of religious or moral objections.
House members piled on the insults to women by advancing a budget for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that zeroes out funding for Title X, a program that provides critical family planning services for lower-income, under-insured, and uninsured individuals who often have nowhere else to turn. The funding bill also eliminates the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which provides crucial support for the implementation, replication, innovation, and evaluation of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs throughout the country.
Failure to Follow Directions
While the misbehavior of some members of the House by itself warrants canceling recess, some members of the Senate also behaved very badly—most significantly by failing to fulfill their constitutional duty to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Scalia in February 2016. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court.” President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in March—he gets a gold star for following directions and doing his work.
But, it has now been an unprecedented 132 days since President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland and the Senate has failed—particularly the Senate Judiciary Committee—to do its work and hold a hearing for Judge Garland. This kind of record-setting is not good—failure to follow directions here has huge implications for decisions made by the Court, including decisions related to sex discrimination, other areas of civil rights, and access to health care. No recess for the Senate either. #DoYourJob and give Judge Garland a hearing.
Refusal to Listen
Finally, the art of listening is very important both as a social skill and as a work-related skill, but Congress has fallen woefully short of demonstrating a mastery of this critical skill. Our nation has been scarred by violent shootings that have tragically claimed numerous lives over the past few years, including in Charleston, SC, Newtown, CT, and recently, the deadliest shooting in Orlando, FL. Yet, Congress has failed to listen to repeated calls to take dangerous assault weapons off of the nation’s streets—despite the pleas of the families of shooting victims, the public, and even their own colleagues in Congress, including those who staged a sit-in on the House floor led by civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis and 170 of his colleagues, demanding legislative action before the congressional recess—but House leaders refused to listen. Instead, members literally shut off television coverage of the House floor in an effort to silence their colleagues—who instead took to social media to spread the word #NoBillNoBreak. For failure to listen to the outcries of the nation, these members do not deserve a recess and should come back and get to work on legislation that will help improve safety in our nation.
While exercise is good, bad behavior should not be rewarded or enabled by recess. These members should get out from under their beach umbrellas and get back to work. It’s time to tell Congress #NoWorkNoRecess!