Congress returns on Monday with a major overhaul of immigration pending in the House, the farm bill lying in a heap and new fiscal deadlines looming when the government runs out of spending authority on Sept. 30 and reaches its borrowing limit shortly thereafter. The Postal Service, meanwhile, continues to lose millions of dollars every day as a measure to rescue the agency founders in the House.
There is no guarantee that any of these issues will be dealt with.
Even in some of the worst years of partisan gridlock, a deadline has meant something to Congress — until 2013. Drop-dead dates have come and gone this year, causing real-world consequences. On Jan. 1, tax rates went up not only for affluent families, but also for virtually all workers when lawmakers looked the other way and let a payroll tax cut expire. On March 1, after leaders from both parties declared that automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would never happen, they happened anyway because of inaction.
“One hundred percent of Congress opposed it, and we’re doing it,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont. “That’s a sign of a dysfunctional institution.”
At this time in 2011, Congress had passed 23 laws on the way toward the lowest total since those numbers began being tracked in 1948. This year, 15 have been passed so far.