This article presents an in-depth look into of the state of American politics at the commencement of the Congressional August recess. It examines key political issues, legislative developments, and the dynamics between the executive and legislative branches. The analysis draws on a wide range of reputable sources to provide a comprehensive overview of the political landscape as of August 2023. By exploring these factors, this paper aims to shed light on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the American political system as Congress comes back to work for the final leg of the year.
The August recess marks a critical juncture in American politics, as lawmakers return to their home districts to engage with constituents, assess their legislative accomplishments, and do state work. During this time, Congressional officials will spend time traveling their states and districts hearing from constituents, and bringing those messages back with them to Washington for the final sprint of the legislative time of 2023. When they return, they will face many challenges both, between political parties and within the speed at which the legislative process moves. Legislators will come back with charged directions from their constituencies and a renewed sense of purpose, bargaining with other members over the priorities that should be considered for the final legislative calendar of this session.
The Legislative Agenda: During the months leading up to the August recess, Congress has been grappling with several pressing issues. Notably, bipartisan efforts have been made to address climate change through clean energy legislation. Additionally, debates surrounding healthcare reform have been heated, with competing proposals for expanding coverage and reducing costs. The Southern border and COVID-19 are a subject of ongoing debate and inter-departmental discussions as these issues seem to impact the majority of the constituencies that members represent.
The 118th(2023-2024) United States Congress has grappled with numerous legislative priorities. Notably, the ongoing debates over infrastructure reform, healthcare, immigration, and climate change have dominated the legislative agenda. Partisan divisions have often hindered movement on key bills, leading to complex negotiations and compromises. These conversations have been made well known in the media but the viewer should be cautioned as every new station has a spin on every conversation they feature. However, some landmark legislation might have been passed, shaping the direction of national policies.
Committees will start back almost immediately where important legislation will make its way through the process. Committees serve as a constant vessel for members to ask questions of professionals and witnesses who testify on specific topics and sub-topics. Currently, the first committee is the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works scheduled for September 7th at 10 a.m. (EST) (which can be watched online at Congress.gov).
Executive-Legislative Relations: The relationship between the executive and legislative branches is crucial in shaping the political landscape. During this period, tensions between the President and Congress have arisen over foreign policy decisions. Mainly over the handling of the Ukraine-Russian war and the impact that China is having on the American societal evolution. Moreover, the use of executive orders to push certain policy agendas has drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers. This notably occurred during the former administration and has been a tool for presidents for over the last two decades. The philosophical debate around executive orders is whether this tool and mechanism have gotten out of control and whether provisions to the tool should be discussed or not.
Partisan Polarization: Partisan polarization continues to influence American politics profoundly. The August recess offers an opportunity to assess and resent some of the conversations to the extent to which lawmakers engage in bipartisan efforts to address pressing issues. Recent studies have shown a rise in ideological polarization among elected officials, the media, and political party organizations. There is a renewed sense of hope and optimism as lawmakers return from recess to the nation's capital to tackle issues in a way that is refreshed and recharged by their interactions and experiences in their respective districts.
Public Opinion and Congressional Approval: As members of Congress return to their districts, they will face scrutiny from their constituents. Public opinion on key policy matters, as well as the overall approval rating of Congress, plays a pivotal role in shaping political decisions. Currently, the overall approval rating (Gallup) of Congress is hovering around 19%. This is down by 3%-/+ from the same time in 2022, with a steady decline in approval since 2021. Members will need to contend with this because, as they are judged by individual actions and accomplishments, they are also judged (by the public) as a legislative body.
Midterm Elections and Campaigning: With the midterm elections on the horizon, lawmakers will additionally use the August recess to engage in campaigning and fundraising. The political climate during this period will impact electoral strategies and voter engagement. This is a valuable time to collect voter data and adjust campaign strategy in accordance with what they hear while they are in their districts. This is also a strong time to encourage new voters to register to vote. This gives members the ability to help inform would-be voters on important issues, the legislative process, and how to get involved.
As the August recess commences, American politics faces a multitude of challenges and opportunities. The legislative agenda, executive-legislative relations and tensions, partisan polarization, public opinion, and midterm election campaigning all contribute to shaping the political landscape that we are entering in the final stretch of 2023. By critically analyzing these factors, my hope is this paper provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of American politics and sets the stage for further examination and research into the evolving dynamics of the U.S. political system at this very crucial and ever-changing period of time.
By Thomas McGregor
Legislation to Watch:
H.R.25 - FairTax Act of 2023
S.172 - No Mask Mandates Act of 2023
S.1409 - Kids Online Safety Act
H.Res.57 - Impeaching Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States, for abuse of power by enabling bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.
S.2226 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024
S.2670 - Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers and Ranchers Act
S.596 - Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2021
S.1323 - SAFE Banking Act of 2023
H.Res.503 - Impeaching Joseph R. Biden, Jr., President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.
H.R.82 - Social Security Fairness Act of 2023