WASHINGTON — In a final symbolic gesture before their five-week recess, House members voted not to go on recess officially — and then pretty much everybody left town for August recess.
Democrats in the Republican-controlled House managed to pick up enough GOP members Thursday night to defeat a resolution authorizing the House to adjourn for its traditional five-week summer break. But even though the House never formally adjourned (thereby also preventing the Senate from adjourning), there probably won’t be much happening in Congress over the next month.
Instead, a handful of House and Senate members will hold “pro forma” sessions every three days that are often little more than the opening prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and a few announcements. No votes are held, and the vast majority of senators and representatives do not bother showing up.
Of course, the House Democrats’ parliamentary revolt against an official recess was politically motivated. Thursday’s 150-265 vote — in which every Democrat, including Maine’s Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud voted against recessing — will allow them to claim between now and November that they were ready and eager to stay in Washington to work on the many unresolved issues. Republicans have employed similar tactics against Democrats in the past.

Topping inaction with inaction
The past few weeks were regarded widely as Congress’ last, best chance to get work done before the November election on a host of critical issues. For the most part, that didn’t happen.
Seemingly stuck in a perpetual state of partisan gridlock, Congress so far has failed to:
• take any substantive steps to avert the first of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, half of which will come from defense budgets;
• find compromise on avoiding tax increases that economists warn could push the country back toward recession;
• pass a new multi-year farm bill;
• and enact new laws to protect the nation’s economy from potentially debilitating “cyberattacks.”
And that is a partial list.
With control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in contention, it is unlikely Congress will tackle many major issues between Labor Day and November; and Congress is scheduled to meet for less than 20 days during the “lame duck” session in November and December.
An increasingly frustrated — and vocal — Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said it was “preposterous” to expect that Congress would be able to address the myriad of large, complex issues before year’s end, especially when most committees won’t meet during August recess. Snowe has cited congressional partisanship and inaction as her primary reason for retiring later this year.
“We’re in a perilous period in this country,” Snowe said in an interview Thursday afternoon after a failed, largely party-line vote about moving forward with enhanced cybersecurity legislation. “And it is taking a tremendous toll on the average American, and certainly Mainers, because of the enormous uncertainty our inaction has perpetrated in the overall psyche, both from a personal standpoint and from an economic one. That is what has restrained … private-sector investment and growth that would lead to better job creation.”
Snowe said Congress doesn’t seem to have learned from last summer, when a political stalemate about the deficit led to the downgrading of the country’s credit rating.
“This Congress has been characterized as being one of the worst Congresses, the laziest Congress; the list goes on,” Snowe said. “Don’t you think we would want to rise to the occasion and do better right now?
“I just don’t understand.”

Stepping into a union fight
Both of Maine’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives are getting involved — at least on paper — in a labor union fight at American Airlines.
U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree were among more than 100 House members who signed on to a letter urging American Airlines officials to drop its legal efforts to block passenger service agents from voting whether to join the Communications Workers of America union.
In fact, Michaud helped lead the signature-gathering effort as one of the leaders of the Labor and Working Families Caucus.
An article in Politico noted that 120 of those 121 House members also happened to have received about $2.5 million in donations from the CWA’s political action committee during the past decade. Michaud, for instance, has received at least $50,500 from CWA since 2002, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
Michaud spokesman Ed Gilman said it was not surprising that the congressman would take an interest in the issue, given his support of unions and worker rights. While not necessarily a big issue in Maine’s 2nd District, it is a national issue, Gilman said.
“The congressman has always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of workers being able to decide whether or not to join a union,” Gilman said.

Trade envoy in Maine
President Barack Obama’s top trade ambassador is following through on a pledge to visit sneaker factories in Maine.
In July, workers from New Balance factories in Maine and Massachusetts traveled to Capitol Hill to raise concerns about potential changes to tariffs that they say are key to their employers’ staying competitive with manufacturers in low-wage countries such as Vietnam.
The Obama administration is negotiating a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with various Pacific nations, including Vietnam.
The workers met with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk while in Washington. On Sept. 13, Kirk is expected to tour New Balance’s Skowhegan factory to discuss the issues further, Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office announced last week.
New Balance, the only major sneaker manufacturer that still has factories in the U.S., employs roughly 900 people in Maine.

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