Congress was humming Friday with the engines of airplanes and trains, as the 114th Congress headed home for a seven-day summer recess while leaving behind a pile of work left undone until the fall.
Both chambers of the Capitol are out until Sept. 6, allowing members to return to their states and districts, and to campaign if they are up for re-election. The rest of the fall will be scatter-shot, with only a handful of weeks left before the lame duck session after the election.
Republicans pointed to funding for Puerto Rico, opioid abuse prevention, and their blocking of Wall Street reform and oil-drilling legislation, among other measures, as successes. And both parties celebrated advancement through the House of a bipartisan bill to revamp federal policy on mental illness, to help families help their ill relatives.
Democrats squalled that they could not pass the priorities they wanted – chiefly, gun control measures after the Orlando shootings.
One championed, bipartisan measure: Both the House and Senate approved prevention measures to fight opioid abuse, even though no new funding has been approved yet for those measures. The opioid crackdown is in response to an estimated 28,000 Americans who die every year from drug abuse.
The opioid bill was held up for months between the House and the Senate – but the final version seems to be a happy medium, even without funding. The bill would limit the type of drugs that could be prescribed and in which quantities, although it would also allow for partial prescriptions.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid was quick to complain on Thursday just after Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell announced that there would be no further Senate voting until Sept. 6. Reid unleashed a blistering statement saying that Republicans are “refusing to do their jobs” and “rushing to the exits.”
Reid brought math to the Senate floor to back him up – his office unveiled a graphic showing that the Senate will be vacationing this year for the longest period since at least 1955, regardless of which party has controlled the chamber.
“Sadly, this is typical: this Republican Senate is defined by its twisted priorities and unfinished business,” Reid said in a floor speech. “At the very least, the American people demand their senators to at least show up to work on a regular basis. But Senate Republicans have done neither.
“How about something for the middle class? How about creating a few jobs? How about building some roads or repairing our very, very delicate bridges, dams, water systems, sewer systems? Nothing on minimum wage, nothing on pay equity. Nothing on student loan debt. Nothing on job creation. Nothing, nothing, nothing. We have crumbling roads and bridges.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan did the most with what he had, bringing three Americans with him to a signing ceremony on opioid abuse where he called the situation "a national epidemic."
"We need the latest research and treatments. We need our local communities to develop innovative solutions. We need to help people get the information they need so that they can prevent or overcome this terrible addiction," Ryan said on Thursday. "That's what this legislation will do."
Ryan and other GOP leaders also touted an aviation safety bill that passed mid-week, re-authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration by enhancing reforms such as adding more canine security teams, expanding pre-screening processes, more thorough vetting of behind-the-scenes airport employees and requiring companies to refund baggage fees in cases in which it is lost or stolen.