There is a mostly fact-based legend that the entire nation of France shuts down for the month of August. It grew out of the way the rich denizens of the city of Paris evacuated for the Riviera, Deauville and Trouville during the hottest month of the year. Ordinary people stayed in Paris and roasted. But, that was during La Belle Époque, a hundred years ago. No one shuts down a whole city for a whole month in the 21st century, right?
On Thursday, after another month of accomplishing nothing of value, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate declared the city of Washington, D.C., closed for business for five weeks….well, at least their portion of it. Like the beautiful people of La Belle Époque, the people so wonderfully presented in the works of Collette and the movie Gigi, the well-heeled leisure class of Washington will wing their way to more pleasant locations while the rank-and-file of the government, the Executive Branch, will keep slaving away. Arrivederci, adios, au revoir, auf Wiedersehen, sayonara, aloha, salaam, shalom….sorry, the last stupid thing they did was debate an “English only” law.
And that’s because an “English only” law is more important than a cyber security bill or drought relief or the farm bill with Department of Agriculture funding terminating on September 1, or a highway bill that would loosen up at least a little infrastructure money, or anything that constitutes the business of our government. This is not quite as bad as the “Do Nothing 81st Congress” of 1949-50. They only managed to get 13 laws to President Truman’s desk. The 112th Congress passed 139 bills into law, 3 correcting mistakes in laws they had passed, 4 naming Federal courthouses and 22 naming Post Offices. The remaining 110 are nothing to brag about, mostly idiot stuff. Congress’ approval rating is 5%, barely above Fidel Castro’s. Think that’s enough to force change? Nope. People all over the country are screaming “Kick out the incumbents!…….just not MY incumbent.
Republicans say it’s all the fault of Senate Democrats who keep shelving House bills, like the 33 bills they passed to repeal “Obamacare” or the ones to impose restrictions on abortion. The Democrats respond that it’s the House Republicans’ fault because they will not compromise or reconcile the opposing views of proposed legislation. I’ll go with the opinion of two Republican members of our esteemed Congress who are calling it quits, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Representative Steve LaTourette of Ohio. They blame the extreme right wing of their own party for the gridlock and are leaving out of sheer frustration. Long-term Republicans, like John Boehner, can work with the Senate on reconciliation of bills, only to have the reconciliation shot down by the Tea Party faction.
There is one benefit for the American taxpayer in this month-long shut down. There are between fifty and sixty members of Congress squatting in their offices to save themselves the $16,000 estimated cost of renting an apartment in Washington with two other Congressmen. For the next five weeks, the Capitol Police can dial back a little on the 24-hour security they have to provide for the sleepers, the utility costs of the four office buildings will be reduced and the janitorial staff won’t have to work overtime to avoid waking any Congressmen.
There were 249 non-holiday weekdays in 2011, and 250 this year. John Boehner and Eric Cantor scheduled the House to meet 123 days in 2011 and only 109 days in 2012. They did run a few days over last year trying to settle the debt ceiling/debt reduction crisis, but still, don’t you wish you worked only half the year for $174,000 a year?