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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Congress skips out on vital business

Want a job where you get to decide the length of your summer vacation? What if you could make it as long as seven weeks, regardless of the pressing business in front of you?

Run for Congress, which started its traditional August recess last Friday. For those of you who are used to August coming after July, this may sound crazy, but it’s true. Congressional business has come to a halt until September.

Now we understand that many members are running for re-election, but that’s nothing new. The fact remains they left important business hanging as they headed for the airport.

For instance, Idaho is awaiting confirmation of David Nye as federal judge. He was nominated to be the state’s second federal district judge, replacing Judge Edward Lodge who took senior status last July. The state has been getting by with just one federal district judge for a year. Now it will wait another seven weeks, at best.

The Senate Judiciary Committee finally voted to confirm Nye on Thursday, but he can’t begin work until the full Senate takes a vote. Seventeen other judges have been waiting even longer to be confirmed. Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, can’t even get a hearing.

Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Z. Russell, who covers Idaho politics, conducted research on “August” recesses and found this to be the longest one since they began, in 1971. The average August recess has been 32 days, or roughly the length of that month. This one will be 50 days, ending on Sept. 5.

In other inaction, the Zika virus will be making headlines next month during the Summer Olympics in Brazil, but Congress was unable to come up with a prevention plan for the United States, even as the number of American cases grows and the Southeast heads into the height of mosquito season.

The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and through sexual contact. Pregnant women can transmit the disease to their babies, which can lead to serious birth defects.

“We will do the best we can to protect Americans,” said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But “there are projects that will not happen because the funding isn’t available.”

When President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion in Zika funds in late February, Congress adjourned for the Easter break without acting. In May, the Senate came up with a $1.1 billion bipartisan package forged by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo. The money would go toward vaccine development, mosquito control and public education. The House came up with $622 million, taking it from Ebola virus accounts. The administration had already taken $600 million from that source.

House and Senate Republicans finally agreed on the $1.1 billion figure, but only after attaching an amendment that would block some funding to Planned Parenthood affiliates. Democrats filibustered that move.

We’re used to political dysfunction, but it takes a particularly virulent strain to ignore a public health emergency. Unfortunately, the virus will not take a break.

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