Keep the August Recess—In Fact Make it Longer
*Update: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has decided to keep the Senate in session for the first two weeks of August.
Republicans are in a tizzy over how to advance an ambitious legislative agenda within the time constraints of a calendar that just doesn’t seem to have enough work days to get it all accomplished. This has led Members of the House and Senate, as well as prominent figures across conservative media to call for the abolition of the “August Recess” and for our elected officials to stay in Washington and hammer out deals, ostensibly like we elected them to do.
The rationale, of course, is straightforward: fewer days “off,” means more days working. More days working translates into more meetings, compromises, deals, and, eventually, legislation. With top-line items like repeal/replace/amendment/scrapping/saving, etc. the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the largest reformation of the tax code in thirty years, one of the largest infrastructure bills since World War II, the looming debt ceiling fight, passing a budget, and the confirmation of hundreds of Executive Branch nominations all being juggled by legislators (and, quite literally, hundreds of important-but-smaller issues also pending), wanting to keep Congress in town makes a lot of sense.
Add to this backdrop the lackluster legislative accomplishments of President Trump thusfar and you get a conservative base that is yearning for the “wins” that they were promised by the President. Sure, Congress has nuked some regulations. Those are really important actions that will help kickstart some industrial growth, but, repealing the “Streams Protection Rule” just isn’t something that hits as hard as the largest entitlement reform in a century.
So, why play the contrarian? Why come out against Congress staying in DC until they get legislative victories?
It’s simple: DC is what has been getting everyone in trouble. It really comes down to policy, psychology, and history.
You have to ask yourself, if you’re a Republican, do you actually want Republicans to compromise on an “Obamacare solution”? The rhetoric from leadership already sounds like “well, if conservatives won’t play ball, I guess we’ll have to go get some Democrats.” Sure, this could be political posturing aimed at whipping hardliners into acquiescing on the current plan, but it could also portend the very real eventuality of a “fix” bill rather than the promised (for seven years) repeal and replacement.
Now, you may be thinking, “ya know, there’s not enough cooperation in Washington these days, so maybe that plan of coming together and getting a moderate solution isn’t so bad.” Sure, if we’re talking about infrastructure programs or spending issues, you’re probably right. However, much of the current Republican political capital has been invested into a promise to the American people to right the wrong of socialized medicine.
We’ve already heard the trumpets of the Democrat’s counterattack: single-payer, Medicare-for-All. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and if Republicans can’t think of a way to actually restore free-market principles and reform a massive entitlement, it’s the first of many rhetorical tidal waves that could erode, or even wash away, legislative majorities next year.
So, what happens if Republicans leave town without a solution on Obamacare? The system that Democrats put in place continues to collapse. Sure, Republican bickering and refusal to actually repeal the bill are the most recent problem in the law’s sordid history, but the sine qua non was a Democrats-only bill championed by the Left. This is a situation where the government doing nothing will give a greater impetus for change in the future. Acting impulsively to “just get something passed” could have far more negative consequences, both politically and for the healthcare system in America, than not acting at all.
Discussing the August Recess as if it is a vacation for lawmakers is also flawed. It is an opportunity for elected officials to go back to the districts that they represent. Too often, especially in the era of “Drain the Swamp,” we come to associate our elected officials with their offices on Capitol Hill rather than their offices in the districts they represent. While we have seen the paid, left-wing demonstrators get the air time in Republican districts, when legislators return home, it’s a time for them to get in touch with the people who have put them in their positions.
Poll-after-poll suggests that Republican voters are frustrated with what’s been branded as “Obamacare-lite” that is being pushed through Congress as an attempt “just to get something passed.” While these numbers have been spun to imply Republicans favor keeping Obamacare, the actual numbers suggest that a plurality of Republican voters actually want a clean repeal rather than the amorphous “fix” bills that are being floated. Ignoring the bluster of left-wing demonstrators, but really listening to constituents will help to break legislators out of the miasma of DC reporting.
Let’s remember that our Senators and Congressmen are people, too. They are impacted by news reports and frenzy just like everyone else. The palace intrigue and distractions of “the Swamp” are sometimes more than even the most stalwart statesman can handle. Add to this the gossip, calumny, and infighting within offices and caucuses, the need to clear the air and return to the people who actually voted is paramount. While journalists and reporters endeavor to present facts, the swirl of the issues du jour can have the effect of pushing important work out of the way in favor of getting airtime and clicks.
Finally, while it’s not as impressive as the political and psychological rationales for not cancelling the August Recess, the force of tradition should play an impact on the decision. Changing the way things are done in Washington is not always a negative, but adding more time in Washington isn’t something our Founders would have supported. Spending more time “doing government” implies that something needs to be done. Again, the impulse to act is, all-too-often, the catalyst for acting-without-thinking. Writing an essay sometimes requires stepping away and revisiting it after a nights’ sleep. Perhaps governing, too, requires a periodic refocus without which myopia threatens to distort perceptions and invert intentions.
Looking at our current political problems, perhaps many would have been solved sooner had those in power decided that it was best not to act impulsively, but rather with deliberation and in concert with the people who elected them to govern.