- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2011

A few days after 10 of his colleagues wrapped up a trip to the Asian gambling hub Macau, Sen. Mark Kirk warned that the Senate has become “moribund” and is not doing enough to address the nation’s many challenges.

“I’m particularly worried about the Senate. While the House of Representatives has cast over 200 votes [this year] … the Senate is largely moribund. It’s not voting very much,” Mr. Kirk, Illinois Republican, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The Senate is on a two-week recess, even as the bipartisan “Gang of Six” continues working on a budget compromise. Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and Budget Committee chairman, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the Senate plans to remain “relevant” in the budget debate and not sit on the sidelines as President Obama and House Republicans push their long-term deficit reduction plans.

But Mr. Conrad would not offer any details on the negotiations or what a potential deal might look like.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, took a trip to Macau last week, a decision that has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle.

“I can’t explain or defend why folks take some of the trips that they do,” Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, said on “Face the Nation,” adding that the Senate needs to “focus on our spending every bit as much as every working family in America is focusing on their spending.”

Mr. Coons said he has become “frustrated” with the Senate and how long it is taking it to produce a serious contribution to the budget debate.

“I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall trying to encourage forward movement,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that the ‘Gang of Six’ … will have something to put on the table.”

However, Mr. Coons said that just because the Senate is on recess doesn’t mean its members are doing nothing. For example, he said, he uses recesses to visit Delaware businesses and schools and meet with constituents.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, spent part of his two-week recess differently. The former presidential candidate visited Libyan rebels in Benghazi and spoke on several Sunday talk shows from Cairo before his return to the United States.

When the recess ends, Republicans and Democrats expect a fight over raising the nation’s debt limit.

Also speaking on “Face the Nation,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, predicted that Congress will come to an agreement and not allow the U.S. to go into default.

“Unequivocally, yes. We will raise the debt ceiling because the alternative, as every expert economist agrees, would be catastrophic for our economy, for our credibility around the world, for the bond markets and for the world economy,” he said.

However, Mr. Kirk said Senate Republicans will insist that any debt ceiling vote must be accompanied by debt-reduction measures such as a balanced-budget amendment.

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