Congress looks to leave town fast

Never mind that lawmakers just got back to Washington, D.C. from a five week break, as it looks like both parties are ready to throw their hands up in the air and leave town again until after the November elections.

"All indications are it will be the end of next week," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who told me he expects little more than a six month stop gap budget plan to be approved by the House and Senate before lawmakers run home to campaign.

"Doesn't look like a whole lot of heavy legislation on the agenda," said Chambliss.

"It's staggering to me," said retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), "given the monumental issues we're facing in this country."

You can pin that lack of legislating on both political parties, since they each control a chunk of the Congress.

For example, the House and Senate are supposed to be done with the twelve budget bills for next year by the end of September, but once again this year, those funding bills won't be finished on time.

That last happened in 1994, when Democrats were so scared about losing control of the Congress that they rushed all the bills through in order to get home to campaign. It didn't help as the GOP won a resounding victory.

So far this year, the House has approved only six of the twelve budget bills, while the Senate has not brought one spending bill to the Senate floor.

It used to be that my summers were filled with late night debates in the House and Senate on the budget, and then September featured even more action on that front.

Not anymore.

Now both parties just watch the calendar go by and don't even try to bring those spending bills to the floor, knowing full well that a larger "omnibus" budget bill will be approved at some point down the road.

Also not on the schedule right now in the House is an extension of a major farm policy bill along with legislation to allow the Postal Service to make major cuts and budget savings. The Senate has passed versions of both of those bills.

Over in the Senate, a major defense policy bill that was passed by the House awaits action, along with a cybersecurity bill.

Meanwhile, the days tick by towards Election Day, as both sides point the finger of blame at each other over why very little is being achieved.

The bottom line is that both sides are hoping that Election Day delivers a verdict in favor of their party - so then they can take charge of things next year and put their imprint on major legislation.

But - what if - what if we just have the same muddle out of this year's election?

What if the House and Senate remain divided between the two parties?

A lot of people like the idea of Congress not doing very much, arguing that lawmakers can't cause trouble that way for the American people.

And so lawmakers say, if they can't get anything passed, then why stay in D.C.?

That's why the betting in the hallways is that the House and Senate will leave town for the elections no later than Friday, September 21.

The last time lawmakers left town that early to campaign in an election year was 1944; this would be the earliest departure for Congress since 1960.

Here's a look at when some recent Congresses left town for the campaign:

2010 - October 1
2008 - October 4
2006 - September 30
2004 - October 11
2002 - October 17
2000 - November 3
1998 - October 21
1996 - October 4
1994 - October 8
1992 - October 9
1990 - October 28
1988 - October 22

What is interesting about some of those years is that the Congress had finished its work for the year in 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1996. But in other years, lawmakers returned for a lame duck session.

In 2000, the Congress basically stayed in session until just before the elections.

So, a departure next week would be very early to campaign when compared to recent times on Capitol Hill.