WASHINGTON — The Delta Grassroots Caucus for the first time has moved its fall conference off Capitol Hill and will meet instead in Arkansas.
"The decision to meet in the heart of the Delta and not hold the traditional annual briefings in the fall on Capitol Hill is an indication of how frustrated the Delta coalition leaders are with the partisanship and gridlock in Congress," said Lee Powell, director of the Delta advocacy group.
The two-day fall conference will be held at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis starting Oct. 23.
Powell said caucus leaders did not want to ask financially stressed partners to make an expensive trip to Washington particularly given the partisan gridlock.
"Our partners did not believe it would have been a worthwhile time to have a dialogue with most of the powers that be in Washington," he said. "Usually, our leaders like Desha County Judge Mark McElroy and I are very interested in having three days of dialogue with congressional and national executive branch officials on Capitol Hill each fall, but even we had no enthusiasm for a D.C. trip this year."
A Gallup poll released last week found Congress at its lowest job approval rating in 38 years. Only one in 10 Americans approve of the job federal lawmakers are doing.
Powell spoke Wednesday at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol where he expressed his frustration with partisan gridlock in Congress even as he praised efforts by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., to keep the Delta Regional Authority funded.
"Not everything in Washington is dysfunctional," he said.
Pryor and Boozman spoke at the press conference. Both expressed their frustration with Congress for failing to approve a budget or farm bill or take any meaningful action on job creation.
"I’ve been really disappointed with Congress and, honestly, with the White House this year because it has all been about the 2012 election," Pryor said. "People are putting the election ahead of the general welfare of the country a lot of times."
Congress is on course to being the least productive in modern history. The 112th Congress, which opened in January 2011, has enacted 173 public laws — less than half as many as in any of the previous 20 Congresses save one: the 104th.
The 104th Congress, which ran between 1995 and 1996, produced 333 public laws. That session preceded the re-election of Bill Clinton and came after House Republicans took the majority for the first time in four decades.
Congress is in session this week but will then go on hiatus until after the Nov. 6 election. They have not completed a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. They also have put off action on reauthorizing a farm bill, addressing expiring tax cuts and reducing long-term deficits to avoid across-the-board spending cuts that would otherwise be triggered in January.
Boozman said that the failure to address the farm bill has "put a wet blanket on that sector" of the economy as farmers and lenders face uncertainty about the rules ahead.
"We’ve got to get this done," he said.
More than 120 members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus from eight states have signed up for the conference in West Memphis.