By J. Taylor Rushing - 08/09/10 11:38 PM EDT
On the Senate’s agenda when members return from August recess: votes on the Bush-era tax cuts, climate change and small-business incentives; the authorization of the annual spending bills; running for reelection.
“The September schedule, no matter how you look at it, is going to be extraordinarily full,” said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.). “There’s a lot of stuff that’s been pushed off.”
Asked how the elections will affect the September agenda, Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinDem senators call for sanctions on Congo Dems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (D-Ill.) was frank.
“I think the fall campaign began weeks ago,” Durbin told The Hill. “It limits our ability to get anything done, and it slows down to the point where the Senate grinds to a halt.”
Few Democrats believe September will be easy.
“It’s [Republicans’] intent to burn as much floor time as possible, to limit the time we have to work for the American people,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Honor Frank Lautenberg by protecting our kids MORE (D-R.I.). “At the moment, they can say, ‘Mission accomplished.’ ”
For example, most Democrats said the crowded September schedule means that appropriations bills, which are supposed to be done by Oct. 1, are unlikely to pass, meaning that a continuing resolution (CR) on spending — as has been the Senate tradition — is all but certain.
“We won’t be able to do approps,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSenators hope for deal soon on mental health bill The Hill's 12:30 Report Dems: GOP playing from 'Trump textbook' MORE (D-Mich.). “It’s going to be a CR.”
The chamber is set to adjourn Oct. 8 until after the election. And Reid has laid out the first part of a lame-duck session to begin on Monday, Nov. 15. That session would last for a week, followed by a weeklong break for Thanksgiving, and then followed by another session starting on Monday, Nov. 29. The Senate’s schedule into December has yet to be determined.
Asked to gauge the Democratic agenda for September, several senators said a handful of issues that have agreement on a bipartisan basis could see approval. That includes a campaign waged by Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (D-Ore.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillParty chairs see reversal of fortune Why Wasserman Schultz must go Sanders aide: Easier for Dems to unify if Wasserman Schultz steps down MORE (D-Mo.) to eliminate the Senate tradition that allows secret holds on nominations or legislation.
Wyden said Reid has guaranteed him a September vote on the motion.
“It’s going to be an extraordinarily hectic month, but I think a couple of factors will emerge,” Wyden said. “Measures that are bipartisan, which have been waged for years to end secrecy here in the Senate — measures that can move to the head of the queue — are going to be measures that there is significant bipartisan groundwork for passage.”
During the July work period, Reid tried and failed multiple times to pass the small-business bill, with few Republicans willing to sign on to the effort. Yet when the chamber returns on Monday, Sept. 13, the first roll-call votes scheduled on the following day will be on that bill. Reid filed a variety of motions last week to set up procedural votes on the bill starting on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
Reid also has notified Democrats to expect September votes on extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts signed into law under President George W. Bush.
Republicans, for their part, say they are only following Senate tradition in blocking an agenda they see as detrimental to the nation’s economy. Senior GOP senators also stuck to the party line that dictates they are being blocked from the chance to offer amendments to bills.
“We are old-fashioned. We believe in the Senate. If there are votes that are important, we should be able to bring them up,” said Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.). “We think we’ve got some very good amendments. And we all want to help small businesses, but a lot more things can be done in this bill. And we need to be able to offer our amendments.”
“It’s politics at the extreme,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels MORE (R-Ariz.), who still has to get past his August primary. “Every one of these amendments Sen. Reid brings up, there’s no amendments allowed. So what are we supposed to do?”
Not all GOP senators are pessimistic about the September schedule. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP lawmaker: 'Republicans were wrong’ to block Garland Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (Maine), a key centrist Republican, said at least the small-business bill will pass Congress in September, despite predictions that it will be a wasted month.
“I know that is the conventional wisdom, but I’m still optimistic that we can come together on some issues,” Collins said. “We can come together on a small-business bill. But it’s just not right for the Democratic leader to dictate what our side should be able to offer. I can see his wanting to limit the number of amendments, but for him to decide which ones we can and can’t offer, it’s just not the way the Senate usually operates. And that’s what’s caused this total breakdown.”
Kerry is also the Obama administration’s point man on an energy bill, on which he has struggled to find Republican votes. Reid has said the Senate will take up the bill this fall, and Kerry was one of several Democrats to suggest a lame-duck session may be the appropriate venue.
“We all understand that September makes it very difficult,” Kerry told The Hill. “What I’m trying to do is to put together a bill that really could find the votes, and if we can’t do it in September — and there’s going to be a lot of reasons to do it in September — then we’re going to keep pushing and maybe come back after the election and do it in a lame-duck.”