WASHINGTON As debt-ceiling talks between the President Obama and congressional leadership drag on in the summer heat here, a resounding theme has emerged from Senate offices: Very little else is getting accomplished.
Since January, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced nine bills and been an original co-sponsor of 39 more, including several pieces of legislation aimed at improving the No Child Left Behind Act and the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act, which decreases the countrys reliance on foreign fuel.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has introduced 18 bills and been an original co-sponsor of another 27, including greening the Defense Department, two renewable-energy bills and legislation that would increase lending by credit unions.
Nothing proposed so far by either senator in 2011 has become law.
Back home in Colorado people are wondering what in the world were doing here in Washington, Udall said on the Senate floor last week.
In fact, the Senate has only voted 107 times since January the bulk of them votes on appointments. That compares to 230 votes taken by the Senate in the last Congress at this time in 2009.
Udall said he has never seen Washington act like this.
Everything is at a standstill, he said. In previous Congresses, when we had important philosophical differences on debates, like the Affordable Care Act, we figure out ways to pass other things.
Both senators have been outspoken in support of a deal that would increase the federal governments borrowing limit in exchange for future spending cuts.
Udall is pushing a version of a Balanced Budget Amendment to possibly accompany a deal and Bennet has been having conversations with Republicans to encourage support of the elimination of some tax subsidies as part of an overall reform package.
The Senate had a scheduled recess the week after the Fourth of July and both men planned trips back to Colorado.
The recess was canceled and instead, each flew back to Washington after the holiday at taxpayers expense for a total of two votes, both about a nonbinding sense of the Senate to urge a shared sacrifice in reaching a debt-ceiling deal.
I dont think time has been used well, and its time for something to come from these conversations, Bennet said. No place in the real world would operate this way. There is no mayor who would threaten the credit rating of his city for political reasons. No governor would do it.
Rutgers University Professor Ross Baker blames the lethargy on old-fashioned partisanship.
Its a symptom of polarization. The Senate is basically an institution that runs on consensus and there just isnt consensus on much right now, said Baker, a political scientist and Senate expert who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats.
The stalemate on the Senate side contrasts sharply with the GOP-controlled House, where as of Tuesday members have cast more than 530 votes since January.
House members frequently grouse that they are passing budgets and legislation that meet a brick wall on the Senate side.
Were doing a lot of work here, said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. Weve already voted to eliminate some (tax) subsidies. ... The House has voted to cut $2 trillion in spending.
Since they are barely voting, Udall and Bennet have taken to holding press calls and giving floor speeches about the lack of progress in solving the nations largest problems.
Somehow the politics in Washington allows for this kind of behavior, Bennet said. I think this place has been hyper-partisan from the time Ive been here and far more partisan than the people in our state are.