Congress has lots of things it can do, lots of things it wants, but only one thing it has to do — pass the spending bills that fund the government for the coming year, preferably on time and within budget.

At that, Congress has piled up a proven record of failure. With the Republicans in charge, the lawmakers have met their deadline only once, in 1995, the year the GOP took control of the House.

The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and in a perfect system all the federal agencies would know well before then how much they have to spend and what they are allowed to spend it on.

But every year Congress is late, usually months, sometimes not wrapping up the last loose ends until the next calendar year.

None of the spending bills _ 11 in the House, a dozen in the Senate _ has passed both houses, let alone reached the president’s desk. And the lawmakers have knocked off for the month of August.

To be fair, the House has passed all of its bills; the Senate, only one. Still, that means the work will not be finished by Oct. 1. With October devoted to campaigning for re-election, Congress seems fated to yet again pay the penalty for its inefficiency _ a post-election lame-duck session.

Lame-duck sessions are not conducive to good legislation. The attitude is: "Let’s just get it done and get out of here." If this Congress runs into overtime, it will be the fifth consecutive lame-duck session since the Republican takeover, the longest run of lame-duckery since the New Deal.

Congress did wrestle with some difficult issues like immigration reform, but much of its time was taken up with fringe issues like gay marriage, flag burning and the Pledge of Allegiance intended to stir up the voters.

That way, the thinking goes, the voters will send Congress back to do what it wants to do and maybe, before the fiscal year is too far along, get around to doing what it has to do.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)