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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2010

Congress' early exit

Congress will be absent until Nov. 15, in what lawmakers call “recess,” as they campaign for re-election.

New polls peg Americans' approval rating of Congress as low as 13 percent. The fact that lawmakers fled Washington last week without performing some of their most basic duties — such as passing spending bills to fund the government — will not improve that dismal assessment.

Congress avoided a government shutdown only by continuing the current budget. Although the federal fiscal year ended last Thursday, the House has approved just two appropriations bills, leaving a dozen hanging. The Senate has passed none.

Lawmakers put off a vote on whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, avoiding a controversial issue before they face the voters. Continuing the cuts for wealthy households, with annual incomes of $250,000 or more, would cost the nation $36 billion a year.

Republicans have been worse than Democrats at obstructing legislative progress. But Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, enabled the recess by postponing the ethics trials of Reps. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) in an effort to stave off their defeats at the polls or embarrassment to the party.

It would not be astonishing if many members of Congress will have to use the extra two weeks' vacation they gave themselves after the Nov. 2 election to start looking for new jobs.

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