Eying Recess, Congress Leaves Behind Stack Of Bills

With summer vacation beckoning on Friday, Congress tried to finish up some business on farm programs and other pressing matters — generally by delaying larger decisions until later.

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Lawmakers are heading for the exits on Capitol Hill today. They're leaving Washington on a summer recess that stretches until mid-September. They're also leaving behind a big stack of unpaid bills. As a result, there may be no disaster relief for drought-stricken farmers and moves to shore up the nation's cyber security remain in limbo.

NPR's David Welna explains why.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: If House Speaker John Boehner had any misgivings today about the work Congress is leaving undone, he did not share them at his weekly news conference.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: You know, as we head into the district work period, I want to say how proud I am of our members and the work that they've accomplished.

WELNA: Boehner boasted that by voting last night to extend all of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for another year, the Republican-run House was what he called the only group in town who've taken action to stop the looming tax hikes. That's because last week the Senate voted to end those tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers. House Democrats tried doing the same and failed. Their leader is Nancy Pelosi.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: We did this in the Bush years. It didn't work. It produced record unemployment, record unemployment. So now, they're saying, perhaps we shall all engage in the luxury of amnesia. Let's forget all of that and let's do it again.

WELNA: There was a lot of pressure on Speaker Boehner from both sides of the aisle to bring up a five-year farm bill passed by the Senate since it contains urgently sought drought relief assistance, but differences among Republicans kept the measure off the floor. Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson angrily rebuked the GOP leadership.

REPRESENTATIVE COLLIN PETERSON: Once again, the House will adjourn without finishing its work. You know, there's no wonder that nobody likes Congress anymore. Members will now have to explain to their constituents why the House did not even try to consider a new five-year farm bill.

WELNA: Instead, the House approved a narrow bill that promises relief only to cattle ranchers who do not have access to federal insurance. Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas defended the move.

REPRESENTATIVE FRANK LUCAS: I plan to work towards the goal that we get back in September, but we are here today, today to fix a problem. Let's do it without partisan bickering. There's a disaster happening out there. Let's give the tools to our ranchers who are the most exposed.

WELNA: Still, the prospects of the Senate passing the drought relief measure before leaving town appears slim to none. Doing so could remove a big incentive for Congress to finish the farm bill when it returns in September. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a GOP filibuster today blocked final action on a bill setting new federal cyber security standards, even though Maine Republican Susan Collins is one of the measure's co-sponsors. Mitch McConnell is the Republican leader.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We decided appropriately, given the complexity and the number of members who have interest and expertise in this issue - on this issue, to not finish it today.

WELNA: Senate majority leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of putting, in his words, partisan politics and narrow corporate interests above this nation's security.

SENATOR HARRY REID: The Chamber of Commerce does not support this legislation, and that's why the Republicans are running like scared cats because the Republicans won't endorse doing something that's good for our country.

WELNA: While Reid vowed he'll keep trying to pass the cyber security bill, Congress has quite a pile on its plate for the barely dozen legislating days that remain before the November election. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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