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For Once, Congress Plans To Go On Recess Without A Meltdown


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning. This is likely the last day the Senate will be in session until mid-September. Tomorrow members of the House will lave town as well. They're heading out for their August recess with none of the frantic legislative scrambles and deal making that typically end a summer session. Instead, lawmakers seem to be saving their strength for epic battles when they get back. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: You might say the Senate already had its annual end of summer session meltdown, what with the showdown last month over stalled nominations that ended with both sides making up, a slate of nominees getting approved, and the filibuster rules escaping unscathed. And the Senate, says South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, did change for the better.

REPRESENTATIVE LINDSEY GRAHAM: It's gone from extremely dysfunctional, just to dysfunctional. We're moving in the right direction.

WELNA: Whether it was the nomination standoff, the farm bill, or the massive immigration bill, what the Senate did get done this year was thanks, in large part, to some Republicans making common cause with the Democrats in charge. It's a change Majority Leader Harry Reid gleefully noted yesterday.


REPRESENTATIVE HARRY REID: I've been encouraged to see more Republicans break from the Tea Party-controlled leadership and they are working with us on bipartisan compromise on a wide range of issues.

WELNA: That's left some conservative Republicans feeling sore. One of them is Alabama's Jeff Sessions.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF SESSIONS: I don't know that much has been accomplished at all. Senator Reid has his agenda and he's been able to force through, for example, the immigration bill that I oppose.

WELNA: And for which 14 other Republicans voted in favor. Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar says members of the Senate will have something to tout back in their home states.

REPRESENTATIVE AMY KLOBUCHAR: My message at home is we've gotten immigration done, we've got the farm bill done. It needs for the house to take action and stop their party in-fighting and actually get it done.

WELNA: This politically divided Congress, much like the last one, may well be remembered for how little it got done - just 23 bills have been sent to President Obama this year for his signature. Sarah Binder is an expert on Congress at the Brookings Institution.

SARAH BINDER: A divided government doesn't help. I mean, the fact that President Obama has to have a meeting of minds with a Republican House, that's not easy and it's certainly really hard when the two parties are pretty polarized.

WELNA: Yesterday Obama paid Congress a rare visit, though he only met with fellow Democrats. Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat, said it was a kind of sendoff.

REPRESENTATIVE DICK DURBIN: I think the president wanted to just reinforce the message that he has been delivering for the last several weeks - this is all about helping working families, middle income families, in a very tough economy. And it's all about creating jobs. We have a positive, forceful message and the Republicans, all they can talk about is repealing Obamacare. As if that is the answer to our prayers. They're just wrong.

WELNA: Indeed, the last vote House Republicans hold before leaving town tomorrow will be yet another attempt to repeal Obamacare. And a group of Tea Party-backed GOP senators is asking colleagues to sign a pledge to oppose any funding bill for the coming fiscal year that contains money for Obamacare. Texas Republican Ted Cruz says August is the time to build support for the measure.

REPRESENTATIVE TED CRUZ: If the grassroots come together and demand accountability of our elected representatives, I believe we will succeed in getting either 41 senators in the Senate to stand together, or 218 members of the House to stand together. That's the path to winning this fight and de-funding a law that there's bipartisan consensus is not working.

WELNA: And that might force a government shutdown at the end of next month, which is why Arizona Republican John McCain calls the de-funding drive a very bad idea.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MCCAIN: It's a non-starter, and those of us that have been around for a while know what happens when there's the threat of the shutdown of the government.

WELNA: Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, yesterday, defended his chamber's output.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We're not just over here making noise. The House Republicans are continuing to take action.

WELNA: That came after Boehner told CBS last week he was not concerned about charges that this is the least productive Congress ever.


BOEHNER: We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.

WELNA: And the number of laws this Congress has repealed so far? Zero. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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