Congress accomplishes nothing but goes on vacation anyway

Congressional schedule-keepers had planned for a two-week sprint between vacations to produce weighty reforms on immigration, pensions and tax policy. But Friday, at the finish line, all of those measures were missing.

The 16-day Easter break began just the same.

“Most families do spend a little time together over Easter, so I don’t think that it’s an unusual time to do it,” said Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois. Durbin said he expects more questions from his constituents about the war in Iraq than Congress’ schedule.

As for those who wonder why Congress is taking a two-week vacation with such major legislation unfinished, “They’ve got a point,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

It’s not as if nothing happened during the two weeks since Congress’ first-ever weeklong vacation for St. Patrick’s Day.

Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, announced he was relinquishing his seat under an ethics cloud. And everyone agreed that it’s never right to slug a police officer after Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., apologized for doing so.

On legislation, the Senate passed a lobbying and ethics bill that requires lobbyists and lawmakers to be more open about their contacts. Senators said no thank-you to the idea of an independent watchdog policing them, and the idea of giving up use of corporate jets for the price that just plain folks pay for an airline ticket.

The House approved legislation to extend the Higher Education Act for five years, as well as a campaign finance bill that would end unlimited contributions to nonprofit political groups known as 527s. It also passed legislation that would expand sanctions against Sudan because of the genocide occurring in Darfur.

But lawmakers stumbled in the final stretch on big ticket items like tax cuts and whether to spend more or less on health and education programs.

A deal on overhauling immigration law lasted less than 24 hours before slipping away Friday in a development Durbin called “heartbreaking” and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., described as “tragic.”

Legislation assuring millions of baby boomers that the pensions they were promised by employers will be there when they retire was supposed to have been on its way to President Bush. Lawmakers are not even close on that.

“Major things just don’t get through here,” Durbin said. “It does reflect the election year. It also reflects that we don’t do things as often as we should in a bipartisan fashion.”

© 2006 The Associated Press