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Updated: Your Congress at work (barely)

Congress has basically checked out for the week. Make that two.

There will be no roll-call votes in the House this week, and then, of course, there's the all-important President's Day holiday week (er, "district work period," for those who aren't junketing abroad).

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The Senate did hold a session, and 85 senators were on hand to vote, including both Marylanders (the scheduled 5 p.m. roll call was moved up an hour because of the weather). Prospects for further Senate action this week, however, appear dim.

Over the House, it's all over but the shouting (to the staffer whose job it is to drive the congressman or woman to National Airport for that all-important flight out of town) .

Here's the word, from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland:

"As a result of the inclement weather affecting Members' ability to travel to Washington, DC this week, there will be no votes in the House for the remainder of the week. The change this week means that we will add two days to the schedule as we look to take action on a jobs bill and other critical measures. Therefore, the House will reconvene on Monday, February 22, one day earlier than previously scheduled."

Typical of the business that did get conducted (as opposed to the stuff that got postponed, which was almost everything) was Tuesday's morning's hearing of the Senate Budget committee.

Sen. Kent Conrad, the chairman, was there. He's from North Dakota, so he's no stranger to tough winter weather. Unlike many senators, he's on the job in D.C. (Updated: Earlier version erroneously confused Conrad with fellow North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan).

The Republican side was represented by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who isn't up for re-election until 2014, so he doesn't have to scurry home every weekend to protect his seat. Among those who didn't manage to show up: snowhardy Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire (a lame duck, so why bother?).

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were also present. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who sits on the panel, was bouncing back and forth between the Environment & Public Works Committee and the Budget Committee hearings today, his staff said.

Among the witnesses: Dr. Carmen Reinhart, an economist at the University of Maryland, who didn't have to travel too far to get to Capitol Hill.

The topic at hand is the daunting long-term deficit crisis facing the United States. "Truly dire," said Conrad.

But never far from everyone's mind was the snow.

Alabama's Sessions, interrupting the proceedings to recognize some visiting Alabama students, one of whom was wearing a University of Alabama hat ("That's the number one football team in America," the senator reminded the largely empty hearing room), and pointing out that they were having to deal with the snow during their class visit to Washington.

One of the expert witnesses, economist Donald Marron, reached for a timely metaphor in warning the sparse representation of senators about the danger that Washington's failure to stanch the flow of red ink would lead to bigger problems in the future.

A "snowballing effect," said the former member of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.

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Over on the other side of the Capitol, Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland is in the House. Literally. As the presiding order--conveniently, on a potential snow day, from nearby Prince George's County--she gaveled the House to order shortly after noon. A few minutes of blah blah ensued, and the House recessed until 2 p.m. for more of its pro forma session. No legislative business will be transacted for the next 13 days.

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