Se­nate slashes Au­gust re­cess to show more work to vot­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

Se­nate Re­pub­li­can lead­ers have con­cluded that they will have to spend more time in the Wash­ing­ton swamp — in Au­gust, no less — if they want to make head­way on drain­ing it.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said last Tues­day that he is can­cel­ing the cham­ber’s sum­mer va­ca­tion and will keep law­mak­ers in town for most of Au­gust, forc­ing them to take more votes to ap­prove Pres­i­dent Trump’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees and make head­way on the an­nual slate of spend­ing bills.

The move is as sym­bolic as it is sub­stan­tive, sig­nal­ing that Repub­li­cans hope to avoid get­ting tagged as lead­ers of a do-noth­ing Con­gress be­fore vot­ers head to polls.

Stay­ing in town will give them ex­tra time to work on a farm bill, the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill, wa­ter projects leg­is­la­tion and more opi­oids mea­sures, as well as the on­go­ing ef­forts to ap­prove nom­i­nees and pass bills to keep the gov­ern­ment open into the new fis­cal year.

Mr. McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Re­pub­li­can, por­trayed the slimmed-down va­ca­tion as an in­sur­ance pol­icy.

“Even with co­op­er­a­tion, we’ve got a lot of ap­pro­pri­a­tion bills to pass, we’ve got this back­log of nominations,” Mr. McCon­nell said. “Cer­tainly we an­tic­i­pate and hope to have less ob­struc­tion on those, but I’ve been hop­ing for that for quite some time and it hasn’t oc­curred yet.”

His sched­ule will give se­na­tors a week­long va­ca­tion in early Au­gust, but they will have to be back in Wash­ing­ton for the fi­nal three weeks, in­stead of on va­ca­tions or of­fi­cial fact-find­ing jun­kets or cam­paign­ing back home.

Pres­i­dent Trump had called for the move — though Democrats said it will put pres­sure on him to can­cel his own Au­gust va­ca­tion and share the work­load.

Law­mak­ers in both par­ties gen­er­ally cheered the move, though they were not sold on whether it would pro­duce re­sults.

“It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that sim­ply can­cel­ing the Au­gust state work pe­riod is not the goal,” said Sen. David Per­due, a Ge­or­gia Re­pub­li­can who pushed for the schedul­ing change. “We should be work­ing nights and week­ends now to get the re­sults the Amer­i­can peo­ple sent us here to de­liver.”

Se­nate Democrats said they hope Mr. McCon­nell will add health care to his Au­gust agenda. They said Oba­macare pre­mi­ums are ris­ing to ac­com­mo­date the re­peal of the in­di­vid­ual man­date and con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty about the health care mar­kets.

“We wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress it, and we’re go­ing to work very hard in Au­gust to re­quire our Re­pub­li­can col­leagues to do some­thing about it,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat.

Not on the Se­nate’s to-do list was passing a bud­get — Con­gress is al­ready nearly two months over­due on that dead­line. Nor was tack­ling im­mi­gra­tion.

In­stead, the big is­sues to tackle will likely be a back­log of pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees and the an­nual spend­ing bills.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Re­pub­li­can who chairs the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said the ad­di­tional time pro­vides no guar­an­tee that law­mak­ers can pass all 12 bills re­quired to fund the gov­ern­ment be­fore the next shut­down dead­line hits on Sept. 30.

But he said more time “gives us a bet­ter chance.”

Other ap­pro­pri­a­tors, though, have sig­naled that they ex­pect to re­sort to a stop­gap bill to get past the Sept. 30 dead­line.

House con­ser­va­tives, who fre­quently com­plain about the com­par­a­tively slow pace of the Se­nate, praised Mr. McCon­nell’s move.

“I’ve been say­ing since last July that Con­gress should have more work­ing days in or­der to get the pri­or­i­ties that we promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple across the fin­ish line. It’s good to see the Se­nate adding days to their cal­en­dar,” Rep. Ted Budd, North Carolina Re­pub­li­can, said on Twit­ter.

Mr. McCon­nell short­ened last year’s sum­mer va­ca­tion as well. He orig­i­nally an­nounced that law­mak­ers would lose two weeks of their break as he tried to push for votes on an Oba­macare re­peal and ac­tion on spend­ing bills and nominations.

But af­ter the Oba­macare re­peal sput­tered, Repub­li­cans gave up and rushed for the ex­its af­ter only a week of ex­tra work.

This year, sticking around Wash­ing­ton has added im­pli­ca­tions. With elec­tions loom­ing in Novem­ber, be­ing at the Capi­tol means less time for se­na­tors in tough races to cam­paign back home.

Sen. Cory Gard­ner of Colorado, who heads the Se­nate Re­pub­li­can cam­paign arm, said that won’t hurt law­mak­ers if they use the ad­di­tional time to do more work.

“The ben­e­fit of Au­gust is get­ting our work done for the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and that will have a ben­e­fit in Novem­ber,” he said.

But lib­eral ac­tivists said the move showed des­per­a­tion of Repub­li­cans who are afraid to face vot­ers.

“Vot­ers know they’re get­ting screwed by this Con­gress, and McCon­nell doesn’t want the PR night­mare of dozens of neg­a­tive town halls in Au­gust,” the group Pa­tri­otic Mil­lion­aires said in a state­ment.

Law­mak­ers fac­ing tough re-elec­tions, though, said they are ea­ger to show what they can ac­com­plish in ex­tra time.

“I just hope that this is not pos­tur­ing,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mis­souri Demo­crat. “I hope that Sen. McCon­nell is se­ri­ous about the No. 1 is­sue in my state, which is do­ing some­thing about health care costs.”

Sen. Dean Heller, a Ne­vada Re­pub­li­can who pushed to can­cel the re­cess, cheered the move but said even more time may be needed.

“As I have said time and time again, Con­gress needs to do its job, and if that means that we need to re­main on the floor of the U.S. Se­nate on the week­ends, overnight and through the month of Au­gust to make more progress, then we should do it,” he said.

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