What Congress Isn't Doing Before Its Summer Vacation

Photograph by Steve Allen

Later this week, members of Congress will leave Washington and begin their summer break. It’s a long one—five whole weeks.

So what are lawmakers doing to make the most of their last few days on Capitol Hill? Bloomberg News’ Richard Rubin reports that the Republican-led House is actually pretty busy with 10 bills, what party leaders have dubbed “Stop Government Abuse Week.” The Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2013 would stop the Obama administration from writing any regulations that cost more than $100 million without congressional approval. And the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013 would do exactly what its name suggests: stop the administration from enforcing Obamacare.

A handful of the bills target federal employees: HR 313 would stop agencies from holding conferences that cost more than $500,000 and sets up new disclosure rules for the events. HR 2711 allows citizens to record conversations with federal enforcement officials investigating them for violating federal law. HR 2579 gives agencies the power to place employees on unpaid leave if they’re under investigation.

That last piece of legislation was a direct response to how the IRS dealt with Lois Lerner, the official at the heart of the agency’s extra-scrutiny-of-Tea-Party-groups scandal; the agency put her on paid leave as it investigated her role in the targeting. No fewer than three other bills zero in on the IRS and the IRS alone: The Stop IRS Act says that agency employees can be fired for going after taxpayers for political reasons. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2013 is a two-page piece of legislation stating that the agency’s head must make sure employees know what rights taxpayers have. And the Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act is another two-page bill that would put a moratorium on IRS conferences.

There’s a reason many of the bills have catchy names (at least, catchy by Washington standards): They’re less about passing legislation that the Democrat-led Senate will consider and more about signaling a message to the voters they’ll soon be facing back home. The Senate isn’t likely to take up any of these bills, but House members will be able to tout how busy they’ve been cracking down on the IRS, working to shrink the size of government, and fighting (and fighting and fighting) Obamacare.

Meanwhile, immigration reform, a fix for the farm bill, and the 2014 budget all remain untouched. Once again, Congress is packing it in having left all the big work undone.

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