09/24/2006 12:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Do-Nothing Congress, Do-Nothing Fall

Watching Fox this morning for coverage of the Bill Clinton interview for Eat The Press I almost choked when I heard the morning anchorwoman intone: "The war in Iraq. Homeland security. Illegal immigration. A lot of issue for Congress to deal with &mdash and guess what? Only five days to do it."

Turns out Congress adjourns on Friday until after the election. What? Didn't they just have a full month of vacation? Aren't there important things going on? Is Congress really so efficient that they can breezily get it done in a week? Not based on its track record — it didn't get the nickname "Do-Nothing Congress" for nothing. And the country has noticed: In last week's New York Times/CBS News poll, only 25% of Americans reported approving of the job Congress has done and 66% said they had gotten less accomplished than usual during the last two years. Regular readers of RussertWatch may recall that I had a similar reaction over the July 4th weekend when Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on "Meet The Press" saying, "There's nothing more important than the war on terror, and I think we will have to act on this very soon, either in July or in September, certainly in the next couple of months." Right, it's so important they're skipping August and cramming it into a shortened September. Good thing the troops over in Iraq are getting similar vacation time. Oh, wait.

This reminds me of studying for finals in college, and those kids who would never attend a class or crack a book until the week before the exam, hoping against hope that they could cram it all in (okay, I may have been one of those students at one time, and I'm still smarting from my grade in Matrix Algebra). That's fine for college kids — barely — but we're talking about the elected officials supposedly managing the country in a time that Republicans like to point out is one of grave and unceasing dangers (Matt Lauer! They want to kill your family!). Do they think it's enough to rush through bills on immigration and detainees, with the implication that anyone who tries to put a roadblock on their passage is holding up the vital processes of the country? I mean, it's absurd. And more than a little sad.

I have to point out the excellence of the Democratic strategist that Fox invited on to address this issue, however: Debbie Dingell did a great job of highlighting the issues (she was the one who brought up the NYT/CBS poll) and particularly did a great job in this exchange with the host Paige Hopkins:

Hopkins: Debbie, a lot of the issues that fueled the Democrats over the summer were things like gas prices, the economy, the war in Iraq. Well, gas prices are down today, the economy seems very healthy and a second Iraqi province has been handed over to the Iraqi military — things do seem to be progressing there. So what do the Democrats have, what are they offering voters?

Debbie Dingell: Paige, I would disagree with how you framed it. I don't think a lot of American people think that the economy is better. We've had stagnant wages, and prices for consumer goods are going up, they're worried about the cost of their prescription drugs, it's harder for our students to get loans, our borders remain unprotected, we're devoting all of our resources to Iraq and diverting those resources away from national security — I think that — it's how you frame it — there is a level of not being happy, they are concerned, and I think you're gonna see that voted in November.

Whew! Quite the laundry list, but more importantly, a great example of how careful you have to be while watching cable news — just because the anchor (or the guest) says it's so does NOT mean that they've framed it correctly (but it does provide an opportunity to see someone say something horrendously offensive, like Pat Buchanan saying the Crusades were an opportunity for Christians to "take back what we had lost" — handily dispensed with by our own fearless Arianna, I might add). The point is, there is plenty to be worked on, and no amount of spin is going to change that. Unfortunately, no amount of time off for Congress is going to change that, either.