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Failing Grade

What with late-night pandemonium breaking out on the House floor last week and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apologizing for throwing a “tantrum,” it’s definitely time for an August vacation — and some resolve on the part of Republicans and Democrats in both chambers to do more and behave better when they get back.

The days before a recess or adjournment always are tense and hectic, but this year the atmosphere of partisan rancor reached new depths, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) declaring Thursday that majority Democrats had imposed “martial law” to “stifle debate” and Republicans staging a walkout Thursday night when they were declared losers in a roll-call vote they believed they’d won.

It was, of course, comeuppance time for the GOP after 12 years when gone-but-not-forgotten House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) ran roughshod over minority Democrats. Thursday night’s outrages — the chairman’s declaration that Democrats had won an immigration vote when the vote board showed they’d lost — was a cousin of the stunt Republicans pulled in 2003, holding open a vote on Medicare for nearly three hours while they twisted arms on its behalf.

Over in the Senate, it’s now Democrats who are accusing Republicans of “obstructionism” after years when roles were reversed. Somehow neither party ever realizes that what goes around eventually will come around when power changes hands.

Substantively, the Democratic-controlled Congress has scratched and scrambled to assemble perhaps a C-plus record of accomplishment to take home to their constituents over the summer recess. Of the Democrats’ “Six in ’06” campaign agenda, four measures have been passed for signing by the president — a minimum-wage increase, ethics and homeland security legislation and a stem-cell research expansion, though the stem-cell bill was vetoed.

Congress also can claim credit for making progress, albeit acrimoniously and with vetoes threatened, on energy legislation, a farm bill and reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Meanwhile, believing that the 2006 elections were a referendum on the Iraq War, Democrats repeatedly have tried to end it but repeatedly have failed. They have undertaken with a vengeance their opportunity to inflict oversight on the Bush administration, but so far they have been unable to depose any high-ranking official. Partisanship also delayed a fix in monitoring terrorist communications.

Moreover, while the House has managed to process nearly all appropriations bills needed to fund the government for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, the Senate has passed just one. The prospect is that the government will have to run on continuing resolutions while an omnibus funding bill is processed, vetoed, renegotiated and finally passed and signed — in 2008, perhaps.

For total performance, the public is giving its government a failing grade. The president’s approval rating is around 30 percent and Congress’ is just under that. We’d urge leaders and followers of both parties to spend the August recess resolving to do the public’s business when they return instead of futilely trying to win a partisan war.

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