THE 113th, mostly do-nothing, Congress has been in recess — the House of Representatives returns today and the Senate Dec. 9, with an overwhelming list of work to be completed.
It is hard to say what part of the unfinished agenda is most important. The farm bill, which expires this month, is high on the list. The measure deals with U.S. agricultural production for the next five years, and governs the fate of increasingly needed food stamps.
As the economy continues to slump, more Americans — an estimated 22 percent of them children — depend on the program to eat. Yet the Democratic-led Senate wants to cut $4.5 billion from food stamps, and the Republican-led House $40 billion.
Budget talks between the two chambers are supposed to be concluded by mid-December. House and Senate schedules will overlap only from Dec. 10 to Dec. 13, making it increasingly difficult to reach an agreement that would stave off further budget sequestration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has ruled out action in his chamber this year on immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate last June. Nothing has happened on promised legislation to overhaul the federal tax code.
The first anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., slaughter of schoolchildren has passed with no new gun control action. Work on developing a revised energy strategy that reflects changes in the country’s circumstances — including the new role of natural gas and consequent drop in oil imports — has gone nowhere.
Instead, Americans can expect Republicans in Congress to continue to fight President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and to seek to neuter the agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders reached with Iran to bring its nuclear program under control.
Lawmakers’ seeming lack of concern that voters will punish their lack of action on matters of crucial importance, with congressional elections scheduled for next year, is astonishing. These last few weeks will give them a chance to improve their dismal record. They should take advantage of the time remaining on the clock to act.