Despite a vow from House and Senate Republicans to have a productive 2016, this year Congress is on track to be in session for just 124 days, the tightest schedule since 1956.
Republicans bolstered their hold of the house and took control of the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections. Their new reign produced some improvement in congressional output, the chambers enacting 87 substantive laws in the 2015-2016 term, according to Pew Research Center.
That was an improvement over the previous two years, when Congress only churned out 61 new substantive laws. Still, the current productivity pales in comparison to ten years ago, when 124 substantive laws were passed in the 2005-2006 term.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Majority Leader, had promised that Congress would work hard to regain the public’s confidence following his party’s victory in 2014.
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“The first thing I need to do is get the Senate back to normal,” McConnell said, according to Politico.
For 2016, the Senate was supposed to be in session for 149 days — a thin schedule to begin with — but that number has continued to shrink, now projected to be only 124 days, the fewest in 60 years.
“Fewest days since 1956,” remarked Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Minority Leader. “Listen, he [McConnell] doesn’t have much to crow about.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate Majority Whip, has pitched that this GOP-controlled Congress is making up for the short 115th session with passing as much legislation as possible.
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“More than the amount of time, it’s what you do you with the time,” Cornyn said.
Democrats in Congress has pointed to the Republican lawmakers’ refusal to even hold a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s appointee to the Supreme Court, as evidence that they are not doing their jobs.
“As long as they continue to block a hearing on the Supreme Court the American people will think, correctly, that they’re not doing their job,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
While Congress has passed a number of laws regarding transportation, Medicare and energy, a number of pressing and potentially life-saving measures have been set aside due to partisan sniping.
One casualty is Congress’ inability to approve of emergency funds to states that could be vulnerable to the incoming Zika virus, ThinkProgress reports.
The White House has requested $1.9 billion just for combating the virus, which causes devastating complications for pregnant women and newborns. Republicans in the Senate have argued that the funds should only be $589 million.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has urged for his colleagues to come to an agreement so that the states can be prepared by July, when the virus is expected to spread.
“I want to know what to say when [people] ask ‘What did you do about it?’” Rubio said on the Senate floor.