by Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- Congress is on track to adjourn at one of the earliest dates before Election Day since 1960, giving lawmakers more time to campaign in the final stretch but also opening up the institution to further criticism that it's not working hard enough to address the nation's problems.
"There needs to be a renewed sense of awareness of the real problems facing this country and a redoubling of our commitment to shed partisan roles and get down to fixing the real problems in front of us," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a lengthy critique offered on the Senate floor where senators traded heated barbs in the final pre-election workweek.
"I have watched this Senate deteriorate in a way that is almost spectacular," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in an exchange with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who defended his stewardship of the chamber.
"This is, I am sorry to say, the least productive Congress perhaps ever. Why? Because everything we have tried to do [Republicans] have objected to. Everything," Reid said, citing 380 filibuster threats he has faced in his six years as leader.
The House and Senate are on track to adjourn Friday after a fitful week of finger-pointing as the legislative failures of this Congress added up. For example, lawmakers are leaving town without passing a farm bill because of partisan divisions, although the current law will expire at the end of the month. Congress usually adjourns in early to mid-October in election years, but after GOP and Democratic leaders agreed to a bill to keep the government funded through March, lawmakers made it clear that little else would get done before voters get a chance to weigh in this November.
Congress will punt action on the farm bill until after the election, where lawmakers face a dizzying agenda in the lame-duck session to address what is dubbed the "fiscal cliff:" the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the triggering of $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that threaten to send the U.S. economy into a recession if they occur simultaneously.
House Democratic leaders sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, calling on him to keep the House in session in what has become an election-year tradition for the minority party. "Our nation can ill-afford economic uncertainty that will result from Congress remaining idle for another six weeks," wrote Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The 112th Congress has distinguished itself as the least productive legislative session since the end of World War II, according to a USA TODAY analysis of congressional records. The anemic legislative output has helped fuel historical lows in congressional approval ratings.