WASHINGTON — Standard and Poor’s lowered the federal credit rating and the stock market has plunged hundreds of points since last week. Congress, meanwhile, is in the middle of a month-long recess and not expected to reconvene until after Labor Day.
So the question’s been asked: Shouldn’t they come back now and help stabilize the economy?
Lawmakers — from the president on down — have shown little urgency to do so.
Asked straight-up at his press briefing yesterday if President Obama would call Congress back to work, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney indicated he wouldn’t, saying he’s planning on working with lawmakers “when Congress gets back from recess” and “he looks forward to finding partners … in September.”
“The reality that we live in is that this is — as set up by the founders — a government that has different branches with different amounts of power,” Carney said, “and we need to work together to get significant things done, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Even if it did come back, there is little immediate work Congress could do to stop the bleeding on Wall Street. Leadership could name members to the bipartisan debt reduction committee and it could begin its work, but that group doesn’t have to report its recommendations until Thanksgiving, and will likely take all that time to formulate its plans.
And it’s unlikely that Congress and the president could negotiate other economic packages quickly.
In a Monday statement, Obama said he’d like Congress to extend a payroll tax credit and unemployment benefits, as well as “help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports, so that thousands of construction workers who’ve been without a job for the last few years can get a paycheck again.”
That last idea sounds like a government stimulus package, and Republicans are vigorously opposed to another one of those. As for payroll tax credits and unemployment benefits, Obama wants them renewed, but they’re still in effect. Extensions won’t necessarily solve any economic burdens right now — and, as the Wall Street Journal notes, there’s no guarantee Congress will quickly pass those measures when they do get back to work.
Many members of Congress use the August recess to spend weeks at a time in their districts meeting with constituents. At least two Minnesota lawmakers — Democrat Betty McCollum and Republican Chip Cravaack — are advertising events for Tuesday, and Keith Ellison has a town hall scheduled for Thursday. With Congress in session and lawmakers in Washington, those events wouldn’t happen.
There’s also politics to be played during the recess, with officials doing fundraisers and re-election work while away from Washington. Even Obama, who had to cancel a series of re-election fundraisers during negotiations over the debt deal, has attended a couple high-priced events to raise money for his campaign since Congress broke for recess.
Some groups, and even some lawmakers, have suggested Congress should return from its recess to work on economic issues. But with relatively few people calling for that and no guarantee they’d get anything done if they came back, it’s not likely to happen.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.