The common perception outside the beltway is that during Congressional recesses, Washington shuts down much like a Parisian market in summer. Certainly that was more accurate 100, 50, or even 20 years ago; but it is hardly true today. This year, the scheduling of the national political party conventions in July added two extra weeks to the customary August recess, which may have afforded members, staff and even a few lobbyists with an extra day or two for vacation, but there have been no reports of anyone who’s been able to hike the Appalachian trail during this recess.
The gridlock that pervades Congress in this election year would support the notion that there is nothing for anyone to possibly do during this break. After all, only 219 bills have made their way to the President’s desk this Congress (by comparison, there were 460 new laws enacted in the 110th Congress, the last 2 years of George W. Bush’s term). However, that’s only part of the story.
The significance of this year’s elections is lost on no one. Control of the White House, the Senate and – some speculate – the House is up for grabs. Political legacies will be polished by over 50 members who know they will not return in January. The Obama Administration will be trying to finish a regulatory agenda that has been under construction for the last 7 years. And committee chairmen and party leaders will be doing their own calculus to decide if this may be their last opportunity to strike a deal on their favorite issue.
Congress has made more progress this year than any of the last 10 years on bills to fund the agencies of government. Hopefully this is indicative that lessons have finally been learned about who loses when there’s a government shutdown. But it also shows that both parties are serious…to a point…about working together, doing the people’s business, and actually running the government.
With all of this as background, associations, not-for-profits, coalitions and businesses, and their advocates have been working during August to effectively advance and/or protect their own interests. This applies not only for the short-term of the September session, or the medium-term of whatever lame-duck session there is, but also for the long-term to ensure that they are best positioned to advocate for their agenda in January.
With the conventions behind them, many groups are meeting with the Presidential campaign staff to make sure their agendas are on the candidates’ radar. Then, backing that up with local, state and regional efforts to ensure that the candidates are hearing the same thing on the trail. At the same time, there will be at least 52 new members of Congress. Ensuring that they are a receptive audience post-election on issues that hopefully both presidential candidates have embraced is a recipe for success in the 115th Congress.
So while the perceptions of empty offices and month-long vacations are grossly exaggerated, like most things in today’s business and political environment, the work continues at an ever-increasing pace.