Woody Allen, the debt ceiling, and the congressional schedule

When discussing this year’s odd congressional schedule recently, Rep. Joe Courtney quoted Woody Allen’s famous phrase: “80 percent of success is showing up.”

“At some point,” Courtney said, “in trying to get things done you have to have people here.”

Hard to argue with that. By Courtney’s measure (or Woody Allen’s) it’s not clear how Congress is going to hash out a major budget agreement and resolve the dicey issue of raising the debt ceiling before Aug. 2nd. That’s the date that U.S. Treasury officials have said is the drop-dead deadline for Congress to act on the debt ceiling or risk having the U.S. default on its debts.

The U.S. House was not in formal session last week, as lawmakers spent yet another “constituent work week” back in their home districts. And although lawmakers are set to return to D.C. this week, they have two more weeks of scheduled recesses before the debt-ceiling deadline hits. And then lawmakers are out for almost all of August.

The 2011 congressional schedule has been particularly strange because the two chambers rarely seem to be in Washington at the same time these days. Last week, for instance, the Senate was in, but the House was out. The week before that, it was the opposite.

Today, a nonpartisan group called “No Labels,” which has been advocating for a long-term budget deal, issued a challenge to Congress: “No Deal, No Break.”

“With less than eight weeks remaining until August recess, No Labels issued an open letter to every member of Congress today, urging them to delay all scheduled recesses until a bipartisan deal is reached to address the fiscal crisis,” the group wrote in a release today. “Now is not the time for our nation’s lawmakers to reward themselves with a recess,” said Kiki McLean, No Labels Founding Leader.

Courtney, for one, would probably be okay with that.

“There’s a lot to do at home, and so I can fill up the time easily in Connecticut,” he said before last week’s break. “But it’s obvious that we have sort of basic issues we’ve got to deal with here and the schedule is not making it any easier.”