by Rep. Rob Wittman
For American families, the next several weeks are prime vacation time. Thousands will flock to Virginia’s beaches, wildlife areas, historic sites for rest, relaxation and some time off from work. These vacations are a well-deserved reward for the months of hard work and school that preceded them.
But in just a few weeks, Congress will go on its annual month-long August vacation without having completed its most important work. If your family believes that you have to earn your vacation, you are probably confused by this. Well, so am I. That is why I am again calling for Congress to stay in-session until major legislative initiatives are completed.
There are several items which Congress is time-bound to complete. The most pressing of these is passing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts October 1, and the corresponding spending bills. Yet another short term spending bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), was passed in the spring. But that funding expires at the end of September. As of now, there has been no budget passed by the House and no appropriations bills passed. This means that with every passing day, we are closer to enacting yet another CR, which simply funds the government at the previous year’s overall top line spending figure, denying federal agencies the certainty needed to operate effectively. This alone is enough reason to cancel the August vacation.
But there’s more.
We are very close to hitting the debt ceiling, which is the limit on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the Treasury. Estimates are that we will reach that limit sometime in September, so Congress must act to raise that limit or the government may not be able to pay all of its bills. Raising the debt ceiling always requires difficult negotiating because Republicans want to enact spending reforms that will reduce our debt, while Democrats would like to continue to spend with no reforms designed to reduce the debt and deficit. It doesn’t matter which approach you support; everyone can agree negotiations of such importance cannot be delayed for a month.
There are also items on the to-do list that do not have a deadline but are of critical importance to the nation.
The Senate is still engaged in negotiations over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Health care is one of the most contentious issues pending before Congress. There are strong feelings on both sides about what to do. But whether you support repeal and replace or fix and move on, all sides agree that we need to do something. Yet again, the answer is to stay in-session until this important issue is addressed.
Tax reform is another issue that has bipartisan support because it will make American companies more competitive and grow our economy. But there is still a great deal of work to be done on the details. If we are going to make the nation’s tax code simpler and fairer, promote jobs and growth and ensure that the Internal Revenue Service puts taxpayers first, we need to get to work. There will be no progress made on tax reform if Congress takes a month off, so we need to stay in-session.
On the foreign policy front, North Korea’s actions are destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, we are still engaged in defeating the Islamic State and global terror threats remain very real. How much progress do you think Congress will make on these major security challenges if Members scatter across the country come August? None. The best way to ensure the security of our country and our allies is for Congress to stay in-session this August.
As I have done for several years, I will continue voting against adjournment, asking the Speaker to cancel the August recess and seeking co-sponsors for my “Stay on Schedule” legislation that would keep the House in-session if it hasn’t completed its work.
There is a famous quote by Thomas Edison that goes like this: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” This August, instead of going on vacation, Congress should put on the overalls and grasp the opportunity to continue the work the American people sent us to Washington to do.