‘Do-Nothing Congress’ vilified

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Democrats seeking to return to power have labeled the House of Representatives the “Do-Nothing Congress” and are threatening to resist adjourning later this month to make a political point.

House Democratic leaders wrote a letter to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert on Friday saying they will fight Republican efforts to adjourn as scheduled Sept. 29 unless Congress passes legislation “that meets the real needs of the American people.”

The legislative calendar as it stands today includes fewer than 20 legislative days before members break to campaign for the Nov. 7 election.

“Over the August recess, we have continued to hear from our constituents that our nation is heading in the wrong direction,” the letter states.

“From national security to economic security, from the cost of health care and college tuition to the price at the pump, Americans are demanding change.”

As House Republicans and Democrats battle for congressional control, election-year issues will be the focus when legislators officially return today after a five-week break. Democrats have the advantage in national polls, which show many voters fed up with the congressional majority, worried about the economy and wanting a change of direction in Iraq.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California often invokes the “Do-Nothing” theme. Democrats point out the House will have worked just 84 days this year unless the schedule is altered. The 80th Congress spent 108 days in session in 1948, when President Truman labeled it the “Do-Nothing Congress” for his re-election campaign.

Voters re-elected Mr. Truman, who had looked like a one-term president the previous year, and delivered Congress to the Democrats.

Republicans, who have won the two national elections since September 11 by keeping the conversation on the global war on terror, will try to use that issue to their advantage in the few legislative days remaining before the election.

“House Republicans will focus first and foremost on addressing the safety and security needs of the American people,” said Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

“Now is not the time for a weak and indecisive approach that has been offered by Capitol Hill Democrats, and that’s why Republicans are working to keep America safe through policies based on strength and purpose, rather than confusion and defeat.”

House Republican leaders plan votes on a resolution to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, to approve military tribunals for suspected terrorists and to formally authorize the Bush administration’s terrorist- surveillance program.

Also on the House agenda are homeland security and defense appropriations bills, and a proposal to reform the process by which lawmakers can file earmarks, which critics call pork spending.

The Democrats are pushing for a no-confidence vote on Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mrs. Pelosi, who would become House speaker if the Democrats are successful in November, often reminds voters the House took a rare week off for a St. Patrick’s Day break and spent two weeks in the spring on vacation. The five-week break this summer allowed members to campaign back home and attend candidate forums and state fairs while working to convince voters they should be returned to Washington.

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