Don't blink or you may miss it, but Congress is making a brief reappearance in the nation's capital before knocking off until next year.
The House returned Monday but plans to go back home on Friday, Dec. 13. The Senate comes back next Monday, Dec. 9, and plans to stay in town for a decent interval until the leadership decides it's OK for the senators to go home too.
That means the two chambers will be in session simultaneously for only a week. It's only important if the House and Senate enact something that they both need to agree on but in a year characterized by vigorous inaction that seems increasingly unlikely.
The House has been in session 142 days so far this year; the Senate, 142. In 2011, hardly a year characterized by hyperactivity, the House met for 175 days, the Senate for 170.
According to THOMAS, the congressional legislative tracking service, Congress has enacted only 52 news laws since January. In the same period, the previous Congress passed 284 laws, according to another tracking service, GovTrack.
The GOP's tea party wing says this record of inaction is something to be proud of, that the government does too much. (Perhaps we missed it, but we don't recall anyone campaigning on the slogan, "If elected, I will only go to Washington to collect my paycheck.")
It's not as if Congress has nothing to do. Funding for a new farm bill and food stamps remains unpassed; so, too, does an extension of unemployment benefits. Unless Congress acts this month, physicians' payments under Medicare could be cut by 24 percent, likely causing many of them to pull out of the program.
After forty-some attempts, the House appears to have given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Instead, intent on throwing President Obama's words back in his face, House Republicans have introduced the Keep Your Health Plan Act but even if it passed the Senate -- unlikely -- the GOP probably waited too long with the ACA set to take full effect Jan. 1.
And, oh yes, there's the really important business of government. Republican budget negotiator Rep. Tom Cole, Okla., told ABC Sunday the most important priority "is getting a budget deal and making sure we don't default when the debt ceiling comes around."
Failure to act on either one could result in a government shutdown -- as early as Jan. 15 when a measure temporarily extending government funding expires. Cole's assessment is hopeful evidence that a common sense wing still exists among House Republicans.
Blink, however, and you could have missed it.