The midways are now vacant. The slick patter of carnival barkers have fallen silent as the temperatures chill, hinting fall is in the air. Summer is drawing to a close. No more state and county fairs. No more weekend church festivals or beach vacations.
The carnies have packed up all of the rides. The Viking Ship. The Tilt-a-Whirl. Zero Gravity.
Yet if you long for one more thrill, you can visit Capitol Hill in the waning days of summer for a ride on the Scrambler.
Step right up. Everyone knows the Scrambler, the dizzying egg-beater of an attraction that shuffles cars back and forth, in and out, mixing and weaving…until you’re ready to puke.
Well, that’s kind of what Congress has on tap in the coming days.
North Korea. DACA. Preventing a government shutdown. Lifting the debt ceiling. The first tranche of aid for Hurricane Harvey. A second bundle of aid likely to cost at least $100 billion later this month. Tens of billions for flood insurance. Funding for the border wall. Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.
In addition, the Senate Health Committee working on stabilizing health insurance markets, after failed efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Russia lingers.
Tax reform is out there somewhere. And we haven’t even entered into a debate about the deadly Charlottesville, Va., protests, white supremacism, the Antifa movement, Confederate statues at the Capitol and President Trump’s remarks about the whole affair.
It’s enough to give you motion sickness.
The House and Senate return to session Tuesday for the first time in a month following the August recess. All of the above issues occupy the congressional docket.
Consider for a moment the volatility of the news cycle.
Charlottesville is on the mind of lawmakers as they return to Washington. That will be part of the conversation soon on Capitol Hill. But other subjects supplanted Charlottesville.
Just last Thursday there was chatter that Trump was on the verge of halting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). That’s former President Barack Obama’s executive order that granted undocumented persons who entered the U.S. as minors time to secure legal status through good behavior, education or military service.
Then came word that Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was working with other conservatives to craft legislation to address undocumented minors brought into the country.
Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said the senator wanted to create “a fair but rigorous process for legal status that requires individuals 18 or older to either be employed, pursue post-secondary education, or serve in the Armed Forces.”
By nightfall, focus reverted to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
White House budget Director Mick Mulvaney sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting an initial installment of $7.85 billion in emergency funding to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.
Mulvaney told Congress the money would help with “immediate recovery needs in the areas most affected.” And he made the case that Congress needs to soon lift the debt ceiling to help with Harvey.
“If the debt ceiling is not raised, it may not be possible to outlay the requested supplemental appropriations or funds from other critical Government operations,” Mulvaney said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., responded: “The Senate stands ready to act quickly.”
The president jetted into Texas for a second time last week to inspect the devastation. Ironically, he spent substantial time chatting with Texas Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green before boarding Air Force One. He shook Green’s hand several times. Earlier this year, Jackson Lee called on the president to resign. Green drafted articles of impeachment.
On Sunday morning, the conversation tilted to the debt ceiling.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously called for a “clean” debt limit increase by September 29. In other words, Congress would vote to simply raise the debt threshold with no strings attached. But on “Fox News Sunday,” he made a new case for Harvey relief and the debt ceiling.
“The President and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding,” Mnuchin said.
Congress struggled in 2012 and 2013 to cobble together the votes to provide relief for the northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Support seems to be stronger to help out the Gulf Coast. But Republicans are leery of raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., indicated their members were willing to help with the storm and lift the debt limit. Still, in a joint statement, they reminded Republicans which party was in charge and noted that Democratic votes were likely necessary to help the majority.
“Given the interplay between all the issues Congress must tackle in September, Democrats and Republicans must discuss all the issues together and come up with a bipartisan consensus,” they said.
By Sunday afternoon, the story shifted to North Korea. When asked if the United States would attack Pyongyang, Trump responded with a cryptic and equally foreboding “we’ll see.” A few hours later, Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke at the White House.
“Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam or our allies, will be met with a massive military response,” he declared.
But so much for North Korea.
Early Sunday evening, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., posted the draft of the initial $7.85 billion Harvey spending plan.
“We assure them that in their time of greatest need, we will come through for them,” he said of the flood victims.
Twelve annual spending bills fund the federal government. This is a 13th. As an additional bill, the legislation includes no offsets to cover the unexpected funding. Since it’s “emergency” funding, none of the funds are subject to special budget caps or sequestration, the set of mandatory spending cuts Congress approved as part of a package to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
On Monday morning, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, fretted about linking the emergency aid and the debt limit.
“I worry about jeopardizing an agreement with such legislative games,” said Walker, who leads the largest bloc of conservatives in the House. “The debt ceiling should be paired with significant fiscal and structural reforms.”
Walker went on to suggest that Republicans may not “take the problem of our $20 trillion debt seriously.”
By Monday afternoon, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled the House would vote Wednesday on the hurricane assistance.
That vote could be a big deal. Or it might not.
That’s because both the House and Senate expect classified briefings Wednesday on North Korea and Afghanistan by Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
It will be hard to keep track of everything on the congressional midway -- especially since lawmakers are now trapped inside the Capitol Hill Scrambler.