Caught up in the all-consuming presidential race, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there are a few hundred other political contests being decided on Nov. 8—particularly for Congress. It’s become conventional wisdom that our lawmakers don’t get much done in a presidential election year, but the 114th Congress is doing its best to land the title of “Most Do-Nothing” yet. Of the 219 bills Congress passed before it went on its seven-week summer recess—the longest hiatus since at least 1960—195 were for minor resolutions, like post-office namings. The Senate is on track to work the fewest days in a session in six decades. After months of foot-dragging on Zika funding and Flint, Mich., aid, lawmakers managed to address these public-health crises only as part of a giant, sloppy stopgap bill slapped together this week in order to keep the government’s lights on past Friday. Then there’s the utter gridlock on judicial nominees, and the thornier issues that were ignored altogether—immigration, stagnant wages, a tax overhaul, and criminal justice reform. Maybe there’ll be progress in October? Not at the Capitol, because lawmakers just started another weeks-long recess until after the election.
You might argue that campaigning is a time-consuming business, and that vulnerable candidates don’t want to stake out controversial positions in the run-up to Election Day. That might hold water if most of the congressional seats up for grabs on Nov. 8 were actually competitive. Of the 435 House seats, only about 40 are in play; of the 34 Senate seats on ballots, just five or six are toss-ups. The rest are races where incumbents or members of the incumbent party are certified shooins. Even if the Senate tips into a Democratic majority, the faces of the next Congress will look remarkably familiar. Is it too much to hope that they come back to Washington next January ready to do some actual work to address the nation’s problems?