Will This Be The Most Do-Nothing Year Of A Staunchly Unproductive Congress?

A budget, appropriations bills and legislation on Puerto Rico have all been at a standstill.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON -- If you ask Republicans what's the most significant piece of legislation they've passed this year, you're unlikely to get a quick, definitive response.

"I'd have to give it some thought," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Friday.

"I'd have to go back and look," Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said earlier this week.

"We're changing America," Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said with a laugh, in response to a question about Congress filling its days by renaming post offices and designating the bison as the national mammal.

Congress is so bad at passing laws, they couldn't even get that bison bill right. The Senate passed the bill in December, but because of a factual error -- the Senate called Nov. 1, 2014, the second annual National Bison Day when it was the third -- the House passed a brand-new bill on Tuesday, meaning this important legislation still requires further action before it goes to the president's desk.

On Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) listed a number of legislative accomplishments -- a highway bill, an education bill, a customs laws rewrite -- but none of those accomplishments were actually accomplished this year.

"Honestly, the big basics, the big issues, that's what this divided government will not produce," Ryan said, seeming to blame the inaction on President Barack Obama.

But a Democrat in the White House doesn't explain Congress' internal dysfunction.

Lawmakers left town Friday not having acted on legislation to help Puerto Rico, not having done a budget and not completed action on a single appropriations bill.

To date, 31 pieces of legislation have been written into law this year, and hardly any of them would qualify as major. And with the House scheduled to be in session for just 66 more days this year and the Senate -- whose schedule is a bit more informal -- slated for a similar number, 2016 could be a historically unproductive year for Congress.

On Friday, Ryan called House Republicans together, kicked out the staff and had what aides and members called a "family discussion" on the budget and appropriations.

As Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) told The Huffington Post, Ryan was actively trying to bring the conference together to do a budget.

"In the old days, with Boehner, it would have been just a stonewall there. There would have been no dialogue," Yoho said. "Paul is like, 'We've got to fix this. We're on the same team.'"

Republicans emerged from that conference meeting with some renewed hope that they could get the votes for a budget when they return on May 10. Either way, however, it's pretty clear that Republicans will move forward with some appropriations bills when they come back.

Without a budget, the House has had to wait on bringing spending bills to the floor. But after May 15, the House is allowed to bring up appropriations legislation even if they haven't finished a budget -- and from the discussion on Friday, it was clear to lawmakers that Ryan intends to do just that.

The Senate is currently working on an energy and water appropriations bill, but Republicans were unable to end debate on the bill after a controversial Iran amendment was proposed. The bill still stands a chance of getting through when senators return -- but it also could be the start of the appropriations process breaking down this year.

As for legislation to restructure Puerto Rico's debt, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told HuffPost he was confident Congress would act before a large debt payment comes due on July 1. Bishop said the remaining issues with the bill were small and that negotiators were working through minor language issues.

"Like, do you put the words 'consideration with,' or do you not put 'consideration with' in the bill," Bishop said.

Pressed on whether that meant the Treasury Department had signed off on the legislation -- which is key if Democrats are going to support the measure -- Bishop clarified that, no, it hadn't yet. And pressed on whether conservatives had signed off on the bill -- which could be key to getting enough Republicans -- Bishop clarified that, no, they hadn't either.

Legislating ain't easy.

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