Pelosi calls on House to return next week to move $26B state aid package

Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw lawmakers’ summer plans into chaos Wednesday, announcing the House will interrupt its six-week recess and return to Washington next week to act on Medicaid and education funding for states.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the news via Twitter, saying, “I will be calling the House back into session early next week to save teachers’ jobs and help seniors & children.”

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Pelosi made the decision in consultation with congressional leaders following the Senate’s morning vote to move forward on the $26.1 billion aid package. The Senate is expected to pass the bill Thursday.

A K Street lobbyist said the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) pushed Pelosi to call back the House for the vote. States would have to lay off thousands of teachers if Congress doesn’t approve the money by the end of August.

Schools have laid off teachers in significant numbers throughout the year. Senate Democrats fear a delay in state aid could lead to additional firings.

“With an indication the funds are coming, we hope that states and school districts can plan accordingly,” said a Democratic aide.
Pelosi seemed to acknowledge the importance of the education money in her tweet when she wrote the return was “to save teachers’ jobs.”

The House will hold its vote on the package Tuesday.

The decision by Pelosi seems to have caught lawmakers by surprise. A House leadership aide said that, while members were aware of the possibility that the Senate could act on the aid package and force their early return, “no one counts on the Senate.”

Pelosi announced the move before final passage of the Senate bill to give lawmakers as much time as possible to get back to Washington, an aide said. Many schedule family vacations and overseas trips for the long August recess, complicating the speedy return of 435 members.

A Democratic consultant called the scheduling change “a logistical nightmare” for members who will now have to cancel a slew of campaign and other events to make it back to D.C.

One lawmaker told The Hill that members received no warning of being recalled to the Capitol for votes during recess, especially with fewer than 100 days before the November elections. The member, “scheduled to the hilt” next week, has to rearrange planned events in the district as soon as possible.


The House was not scheduled to return until the week after Labor Day.

One member said Republicans were caught completely off guard by Pelosi’s maneuver, but the GOP plans to make political hay of the situation. The party is already hitting Democrats for rushing back to Washington to “spend more taxpayer money.”

During the abbreviated sessions, Republicans plan to offer a resolution by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) pledging that the House will not take up major legislation in a lame-duck session after the November elections, a GOP aide said.

The pressure on the House to return began immediately after the Senate advanced its version of the aid package Wednesday.

It would be “very difficult for the House to be away from Washington for five weeks” while thousands of state employees face layoffs because of budget shortages, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters following the vote.

The funding package would set up a $10 billion Education Jobs Fund to spare teachers from layoffs. It would also disperse $16.1 billion in Medicaid funding to states struggling to balance their budgets.

It isn’t as urgent that Congress approve the Medicaid funding, since that portion of the package approves payments that would be disbursed beginning in January.

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“The House must pass this bill with no changes as soon as possible,” AFSCME legislative affairs specialist Linda Bennett wrote in a memo obtained by The Hill.

“Please call offices of allies and those who had deficit concerns with the tax extender bill. We need support for this [soon-to-be] Senate-passed bill to move quickly in the House,” Bennett wrote in the memo, which circulated Wednesday on K Street.

Republicans might object to passing the legislation in August, which could affect its estimated cost. A Congressional Budget Office score assumed the bill would not become law until mid-September.

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), criticized the Democrats’ talks.

“The American people don’t want more ‘stimulus’ spending — particularly spending for labor unions attached to a job-killing tax increase. Democrats would be better off listening to their constituents, who are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ rather than returning to Washington, D.C., to vote for more tax hikes and special-interest bailouts,” Steel said.
 
 Jared Allen, Molly K. Hooper, Michael O’Brien and Shane D’Aprile contributed to this story.

This story was originally posted at 1:12 p.m. and updated at 2:09 p.m., 3:06 p.m., 3:49 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 8:44 p.m.