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Politics & Government

Congress Adjourns For Summer, Leaving Behind Unfinished Business

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Congress adjourns today for a seven-week summer break. Lawmakers passed a few bills, including a compromise between food producers and consumer advocates on genetically modified ingredients. We'll hear more about that in a moment.

First NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis joins us with a rundown of what Congress did and did not accomplish. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start on a positive note. There was this bill on GMOs. What other bills did Congress actually pass?

DAVIS: OK, so Congress today sent to President Obama legislation that aims to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic. The legislation creates more training and education and health resources for first responders and treatment specialists. This is a significant shift in the attitudes of policymakers and how they look at drug addiction in this country. Congress has essentially moved away from looking at drug epidemics as a criminal justice problem and to a public health problem. It's a fundamentally more empathetic view of the problem.

It passed with huge bipartisan support in both chambers, but of course there are still complains about it. Democrats say it doesn't include the money it needs to make these new policies work. Republicans say they'll provide additional funding in future separate spending bills.

SHAPIRO: So that's the very short list of things that did get done - much longer list of things that did not get done, right?

DAVIS: Yeah. The most-talked-about measure as they leave town is a $1.1 billion spending bill to combat the Zika virus which causes birth defects in pregnant women. Republicans reached a deal on the bill, but it passed through the House on a party line vote. It's now stalled in the Senate where Democrats say they won't vote for it because Republicans included a provision that they say will block Planned Parenthood, particularly in Puerto Rico, from getting any of those funds.

Republicans say Democrats are just holding this up because they want to have this is an election-year issue, and it has now become an election-year issue. President Obama, if you remember, asked for this money back in February, and now it doesn't have a chance for passage until at least September.

SHAPIRO: We have heard so much talk from Congress in the last couple months, including all-night talkathons about gun legislation. Was it all talk, no action?

DAVIS: The problem, Ari, is they can't agree on what the problem is. Democrats see this strictly as an argument about the access and availability of guns, and they want tougher gun laws. Republicans fundamentally disagree with this, and they are the ones in control of Congress. Republicans instead are responding with proposals to fight terrorism and radicalization.

You know, neither party has ruled out maybe some action this fall, but considering how little common ground there is, there probably needs to be another election to see which way the needle is going to move in Congress on this.

SHAPIRO: Well, Congress comes back in September with still, you know, a couple months until the election. Any chance of stuff getting done then?

DAVIS: You know, no one I talked to is planning for a busy fall. The most important thing they have to do and really the only thing they have to do is keep the government running. When they come back in September, they'll have about four weeks to cut a deal to make sure the government doesn't shut down, and they have two options - a quick fix or a longer-term spending deal. You know, the lawmakers I've talked to this week say a short-term punt in September is the most likely, and all these tough choices on spending will be left until after the election.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.