As Congress returns home to campaign ahead of the November elections, they leave behind a raft of unfinished business that is likely to be revisited in the lame-duck session, including a defense authorization bill, a farm bill and domestic abuse legislation.
Democrats, who hold the majority in the Senate with 53 votes, contend that these measures remain uncompleted because Senate Republicans have blocked their legislative plans in a strategy to create a dysfunctional Senate, for which they hope to score political points on which to campaign and win back the majority.
"I am disappointed that this session of Congress has been so unproductive, but I know the reason why," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the floor Friday. "It isn't for a lack of effort."
"We have never, ever in the history of the United States Senate run into such a consistent strategy of obstruction by one party," Durbin continued, noting that Democrats have had to file cloture motions 382 times to try to overcome procedural hurdles.
Republicans in the House, where they hold the majority, and Senate argue that it is Senate Democrats who have blocked the legislative progress with a strategy that seeks to minimize the number of votes held to protect their vulnerable Members and maintain their slim majority at the expense of addressing critical issues.
"Democrats have failed to lead," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday at a press conference shortly before the House left town.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "Never before have a president and a majority party in the Senate done so little to address challenges as great as the ones our nation faces right now - never. They haven't passed a single appropriations bill this year or a defense authorization bill, even though the Senate has passed one every year for more than half a century."
Both Durbin and McConnell said electing more Members from their respective parties would take care of the dysfunction.
Nevertheless, it is this group of lawmakers that will need to address the remaining business in the lame-duck session.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was skeptical that much would get done but is pressing for action on the defense authorization bill.
"Everybody expects everything to come up in the lame duck; it's going to be the most productive lame duck in history," he said facetiously.
He noted that the defense bill "usually takes about a week" and that, while hundreds of amendments are offered, they are typically winnowed to a manageable number.