After the government reported dismal economic news Friday, most members of the House of Representatives retreated to their districts for a three-day break; time enough to contemplate their future and the country's future a little more than 150 days before the Nov. 6 election.
The House is not in session Monday so most representatives won't return to Washington until Tuesday afternoon, but the political landscape is taking a more definitive shape as both parties prepare for a final political push to beef up their respective records.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently wrote a memo to the House Republican Conference outlining the legislative agenda this summer: passing appropriations bills, cutting regulations, fully repealing the health care law, and voting on a bill he says would prevent "the largest tax increase in history.
"We're not going to, if we can, allow taxes to go up on anybody," Cantor, R-Va., said Friday. "We'll put a bill on the floor this summer to make sure that that signal is sent to the working families and the small businesses of this country."
More than five months before the election, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., highlighted an ear-catching statistic at her news conference last Thursday when she ripped the GOP for a light load of congressional business on the legislative calendar.
"In case you're making your plans, there are only 44 legislative days left in this congress," she grumbled. "Six legislative days until the next recess: today, tomorrow, a few days next week. And then we're off again, and what we have seen here is that Republicans have no job plans…Their only plan is more tax breaks for the wealthy, tax breaks for big oil, and corporations that ship jobs overseas."
When asked by ABC News last week whether the House would take up any of the items on the president's to-do list for Congress this summer, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the significance of those measures by imploring President Obama to join him on the major issues menacing the divided Congress. These include the looming tax mess, the $1 trillion in sequester cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act that are due at the end of the year, and the nation's $16 trillion national debt.
"Instead of another campaign speech, the president might want to engage with Democrats and Republicans here on Capitol Hill to handle the big policies that are affecting our economy," he said.
"Maybe the president ought to get out of the badminton game and get into the rugby game that's right in front of him."
While Boehner recently admitted that "it's hard to keep 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to get a bill passed," the GOP's internal tug-of-war has left the speaker with little incentive to break from his party's steadfast, unwavering principle: no tax increases.
"Republicans continue to focus our efforts here in the House on those things that'll help our economy," Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated last week. "I believe that raising taxes at this point in our recovery is a big mistake."
That signal has blared loudly during Boehner's reign as speaker. Last July, that reluctance to increase taxes kept the speaker from cutting a deal with President Obama, after talks ended when the speaker refused the president's demand for more tax revenues after the Senate's 'Gang of Six' recommended a deficit reduction package that included a higher sum, signaling the prospect of bipartisan support for a balanced agreement.