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Congress blows off ISIS debate to hit campaign trail

Lawmakers skipped town Thursday, cancelling six days of work and leaving the debate over the U.S. strategy to combat ISIS in limbo until after the midterms.

The U.S. is on the brink of war in the middle east, economic growth is still tepid, and we’re no closer to fixing our broken immigration system. But to congressional leaders, it’s the perfect time to take nearly eight weeks off.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced Thursday that lawmakers would be skipping town until after the midterms elections, giving them time to hit the campaign trail. The move meant a day of work Friday, plus a full week beginning September 29, are cancelled.

The next session isn’t until November 12, a week after Election Day.

Congress also took a five-week summer break. That means between the end of July and mid-November, lawmakers will have been doing their jobs for a total of just eight days.

And the first seven months of the year weren’t much better. During that period, Congress was in session for just 69% of work days.

It's not like Congress is working smarter instead of harder. The original “do-nothing Congress”—so called by President Harry Truman in 1948—passed 906 bills during its two-year tenure. Today's Congress has passed just 142 as of the end of July. That means the 113th is on track to be easily the least productive Congress ever.

Of course, Republicans often say judging a Congress by the number of bills it passes isn’t fair. They argue that their goal has been to stop bad legislation being enacted. By that measure, they’ve unquestionably been successful.

One reason lawmakers may be eager to hit the campaign trail: The election is already underway. Absentee voting kicked off today in Minnesota, and in Wisconsin it started last week.

Before taking off, both houses did pass a measure that keeps the government funded through December 11, and arms the Syrian rebels fighting ISIS. But lawmakers kicked down the road the crucial larger debate over responding to the terror group. This, even though members of both parties have raised concerns about the administration’s overall strategy, and about the extent of the president’s authority to wage the campaign without congressional signoff. 

Some House Democrats expressed frustration at McCarthy’s announcement.

Not to worry though: Leaders of both chambers said they might get to the ISIS debate when they return—nearly two months from now. No word on whether ISIS will delay its advance through Iraq to accommodate Congress’s schedule.