They came, they did little, they left.
In their rush to avoid dealing seriously with the nation's pressing issues, members of Congress left undone reams of important work, racing back to their districts to explain why they should be re-elected.
This Congress is the least productive in decades. It passed fewer than 175 laws. Some may celebrate Congress' inaction – theorizing that the less Congress does, the fewer problems it causes – but these public servants left undone critical work regarding the budget, the deficit, the military, national security, the post office, farm policy and more.
And sometimes, what it did do – or try to do – was preposterous. Just last week, the Republican House voted to tighten welfare rules. The resolution would have forced the administration to rescind new guidelines that give states more flexibility in how they administer welfare-to-work requirements.
In virtually all other areas, Republicans believe in giving authority to the states to experiment with different approaches to programs, on the twin theories that such experimentation will lead to greater efficiency and that because the states are closer to beneficiaries than the federal government is, they are better equipped to do the job.
Not this time. Why not? Because Mitt Romney stepped in it last week and House Republicans are hoping, albeit in a head-spinning way, to lend him support on his claim that 47 percent of the country is worthless.
Is it any wonder Congress is held is such low esteem? A Gallup poll this month put Congress' approval rating at a pathetic 13 percent, the lowest ever in an election year. Why? Because this Congress prefers posturing for the voters back home to working.
Both parties can be guilty of this, but no one should fall for the canard that both are equally guilty. The tea party Republicans are the tail wagging the congressional dog, even cowing the leadership of their own party.
Thus, the nation is fast approaching the "fiscal cliff" in January, almost entirely because Republicans refused to compromise. Unable to agree last year on a responsible way to increase the federal debt limit, Congress formed a "super committee" to do the job. If it failed the price was to be $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, with half coming from the military. It failed and, now, those disastrous cuts are looming.
Congress has important work to do, and most pressing is the federal deficit. In this democracy, political adversaries need to create progress by accepting aspects of the other party's approach in order to get buy-in.
Thus, Democrats need to be willing to impose spending cuts – President Obama offered them last year – while Republicans need to choke back their reflexive opposition to revenue increases and consider, at a minimum, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
If they can't do that, their rating will sink even lower and the nation, confronted with ruinous budget cuts, will fall into a new recession.