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Against Congress's Summer Vacation


Newsweek's Katie Connolly -- actually, their style conventions appear to make that NEWSWEEK's Katie Connolly, which is so much more emphatic! -- has a smart take on the looming August recess:

Many moons ago I worked in a consulting firm. We worked against strict deadlines. Some days we just couldn’t work fast enough. On those days we didn’t get to go home at 8 p.m., have dinner with our loved ones, and get a good night’s sleep. We just kept working. Sometimes till 3 a.m., sometimes all night. We simply weren’t allowed to miss a deadline. We couldn’t tell clients that our discussions had taken too long. They were paying us to produce, and produce we would. If you had a vacation planned but your work wasn’t done, forget about it. Here at NEWSWEEK, if we are running late on a story, we don’t skip publishing that week’s magazine. We have a commitment to our subscribers. Even when I was in high school, if we didn’t finish our work, we’d have to stay after class. I think you get the point. The comparisons are endless. So here’s my argument. Congress has a commitment to voters and to the health of Americans. It also had a clear deadline. So why should it get to have an August recess?

The August deadline, I fear, is actually getting a bit confused. The point isn't that the bill needs to be done by Aug. 6, and no other date will do. It's not about an arbitrary point on the calender. If Aug. 161were no different than Aug. 6, it wouldn't matter which date saw the completion of the process. But Aug. 16 is not the same as Aug. 6. Aug. 16 is part of Congress's month-long vacation.

Right now, whatever its dysfunctions, there's a certain rhythm to health-care reform on the Hill. The committees have been working on this for months. There's back-and-forth with the Congressional Budget Office, there are ad hoc coalitions of interested senators, there are negotiations and amendments and draft proposals and discussions. It's not pretty stuff, as each day's headlines show. But it's the stuff of progress. To be so close to a finished product and a mark-up and a vote and then, for no actual reason, abruptly stop, is insane. It means a cessation to discussions, negotiations, relationships, hearings, to the work of legislating. It means that the hard work of creating this policy will stop for a month and give way to the politics of fighting over it. That's not healthy. "Ideas can melt in the sun," Nancy Pelosi said when I interviewed her Wednesday, "especially in August."

Photo credit: Melina Mara.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 24, 2009; 12:11 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Federalism: Objectively Pro-Recessions
Next: Lunch Break


In Congress, nearly half of the members have hard political incentives to stop this healthcare reform train from running... and if they can't do that, they can at least slow it down some. They're not about to put off their recess or vacation in order to facillitate a potential victory by the opposition.

I agree, it isn't healthy... but the recess is actually part of this political process.

Posted by: jhgrefer | July 24, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

The argument is to be in contact with voters, our representatives leave Washington. Some merit in that. Nothing much troubling here. But however when once in while Congress needs to complete some important legislative business, they need to postpone their usual breaks. It is much more productive here to complete that instead of 'meeting constituents'.

There is politics in that - GOP will want this break. But it is for Nancy and Harry to make the call.

Posted by: umesh409 | July 24, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Look, I would have liked to have seen Congress pass, or even vote on, a health care reform bill before the August recess. But I think it's a little short sighted of folks to act as if on August 6th all of the representatives and senators are simply going home to have dinner with their kids and an extended vacation. The fund-raising aspect of their recess-responsibilities has been well-discussed, but what about the other stuff they do? What about the work they'll be doing in their home states and districts, that has been long planned and arranged?

I know that a certain elected congressperson has a series of events planned with constituents every day during the week of August 10th. All day. All week. To duck out of those obligations at last minute would be as unfair to the constituents and the staff as, it's implied, not staying in Washington for the month.

Posted by: howardclh | July 24, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I thihk it's pretty deceitful to try to pressure this thing through while most Americans are on vacation and not paying attention. They know it will be a lot harder to get this through with more eyes upon it.

The line about this having been debated for 59 years is total rubbish. The particulars of this bill relate entirely to 2009 and it his incredibly dishonest to suggest that there is no need for further debate. The simple fact that there is such strong opposition justifies continued debate.

Obama should stop playing politics. This isn't a game.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 24, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Another strikingly dishonest thing in the presentation was Obama's answer, at the most recent press conference, to the question, why the rush. Answer: I'm getting letters all the time. He then went on to describe the plight of one of the writers. All who believe his receipt of letters is the reason for the rush, raise your hands. This was a fairy tale for children. People should be frightened when the president gives such an obviously fabricated answer, and one that assumes a child's level of credulity.

Posted by: truck1 | July 25, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

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