Monday, October 02, 2006

Congress adjourns for election with work unfinished

Congress adjourns for election with work unfinished
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaving behind a pile of unfinished work, members of the scandal-rocked U.S. Congress adjourned and went home on Saturday to ask voters to re-elect them in five weeks.

With polls showing President George W. Bush's fellow Republicans could lose control of Congress in the November 7 contests, their leaders even decided to depart a week early to give members more time to campaign.

"It's been a ghastly congressional session, particularly the last year," said Stephen Hess, a congressional scholar the Brookings Institution. "They figure the best thing to do is get out of town. They aren't doing anything here."

Congress has been dogged by low approval ratings, huge federal deficits, the increasingly unpopular Iraq war and a string of scandals. At the top of the list was the departure of indicted former House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas and an investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who, according to a congressional report this week, had frequent contact with the White House.

On Friday, there was another case. Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned after reports he sent sexually inappropriate e-mails to congressional interns.

Foley was the third Republican House member to resign under pressure in the past two years. A fourth, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, abandoned a re-election bid before agreeing to plead guilty in the influence-peddling scandal that snared Abramoff and some associates.

Aside from the ethics issues, critics have called this a "do-nothing Congress," citing its failure on legislation to clean up how it does business, revamp the nation's immigration laws and overhaul the Social Security retirement program.

Lawmakers couldn't even agree on a new budget and have to return after the election to finish a number of must-pass federal spending bills.


Still the House and Senate passed a Bush-backed bill for tough interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists. But they have not yet agreed on a bill to give his warrantless domestic spying program congressional authorization.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist cited as accomplishments confirmation of two U.S. Supreme Court nominees and passage of legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, renew the anti-terror Patriot Act and bolster port security.

"I'm very pleased where we are," said Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring from Congress and eyeing a possible 2008 presidential bid.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who could lead the body if Democrats win control in November, said this has been "a make-matters-worse Congress for the working family in America."

Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky countered: "A lot of Americans have forgotten what Democrats do when they are in the majority. We are going to remind them."

If they seize control, Democrats vow to hold oversight hearings on such matters as whether the president manipulated facts to build support for Iraq war.

A survey released on Friday found broad public dissatisfaction with Congress as well as demand for action on such matters as global warming, immigration, energy, health care, Social Security and even old roads and bridges.

"If members of the next Congress want to be remembered as members of a 'Do-Something Congress' it must address these issues," Paul Light of New York University's Center for the Study of Congress said in releasing its report.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Vicki Allen)