Congress to Have Short Year; Appropriations Work Likely to Suffer
Each year the congressional leadership is responsible for setting Congress' legislative calendar, and this year that calendar will be tightly packed with the smorgasbord of issues Congress must tackle in the coming months. The legislative work Congress fails to finish, however, may be what makes headlines in 2006. This year boasts the fewest legislative days for Congress in twenty years, and this compressed election-year schedule is sure to make finishing appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, a task lawmakers find difficult even with more ample time, next to impossible.In 2006, the leadership has decided to devote 72 days, or a little over two months, to official legislative business. When Mondays and Fridays are included in this total (voting generally only takes place Tuesday through Thursday), this number rises to 125 days. Since 1985, Congress has allocated an average of 152 days per session (including Mondays and Fridays) to legislative work.
Featured high on the list of reasons for this year's limited schedule are the upcoming midterm election and the accompanying pressure on lawmakers to hit the campaign trail early and often. Yet, in previous election years, Congress allocated significantly more time to legislative work than it has for 2006. In 2002, for example, Congress was in session for 149 days, and in 2000 lawmakers clocked 141 days.
The election notwithstanding, Congress, it seems, spends too little time actually in session and it shows. In 2000, the House and Senate completed only two appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 deadline. In 2002, no bill was completed on time, and Congress worked through February--almost halfway into the new fiscal year - finishing appropriations work only after passing 12 continuing resolutions to keep the government afloat.
These recent failures by Congress to finish appropriations bills on time--arguably its most important role--should be cause for GOP leaders in Congress to consider scheduling more legislative days and fewer weeks in recess. It is Congress' responsibility to fund the federal government and the programs that depend on federal dollars, while ensuring the process allows for adequate debate, transparency, and oversight. Sadly, the draw of the campaign trail (and the substantial fundraising it involves) has coaxed the attention of too many members of Congress away from the job they were elected to carry out.
The end result is a shoddy and hastily thrown together appropriations process, seemingly inevitable continuing resolutions that almost always fund national priorities at significantly reduced levels, and far less oversight and accountability in Congress for how taxpayer's dollars are spent.