Congress returned from its Fourth of July break — which ran about eight days longer than the holiday break anyone outside of Congress got — and now owes it to the country to get down to business.
Members of Congress are scheduled to take another long break at the end of July, and when they get back from that it will be fall and they will be in full November-campaign mode.
One good sign is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has gotten three New England Republicans, Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to sign on to a bill overhauling financial regulations. That gives Reid the 60 votes he needs to avoid the filibuster Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to organize.
It’s not a perfect bill, but taking a little bit of the Wild, Wild West out of Wall Street will help avoid another financial meltdown. It gives regulators broad authority to rein in banks, limit risk-taking by financial firms and supervise previously unregulated trading. It also makes it easier to liquidate large, financially interconnected institutions, and it creates a new consumer protection bureau to guard against lending abuses.
Next on the agenda should be restoration of unemployment benefits for more than 2 million people who have lost their coverage, the victims of a Republican filibuster before the holiday break that was aided by the defection of one Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Unemployment insurance is not a priority to Nelson, whose state has a jobless rate of 4.5 percent, but it should be to some Republicans, such as Ohio’s George Voinovich, who are from states struggling with unemployment rates that are twice that of Nebraska.
No one is minimizing the need to reduce deficit spending. But Congress has been spending more than it can afford for decades, and it has never before refused to extend benefits when the unemployment rate was above 8 percent. This is not the time to set precedent on the backs of hundreds of thousands of families that need unemployment checks to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
Congress also has to reach an agreement on war funding and on financial aid for states that have been hit with higher Medicaid expenses and lower revenues due to the economy.
All these issues — as well as a Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation and hearings into the Gulf oil spill — leave more than enough room for partisan bickering, but both parties should realize that they have an obligation to the American people that transcends the November election.