Senate faces full September agenda

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.”

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Overshadowing all of the activity are the November elections. And few are under the gun more than Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE (D-Nev.).

Asked how the elections will affect the September agenda, Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLive coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report Hugh Hewitt to Trump: 'It is 100 percent wrong to separate border-crossing families' Opioid treatment plans must include a trauma-informed approach 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 WhitehouseLive coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report GAO to look into Trump's reduction of carbon social costs Overnight Energy: Pruitt used security detail to run errands | Dems want probe into Pruitt's Chick-fil-A dealings | Yellowstone superintendent says he was forced out 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 StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress must work with, not against, tribal communities in crafting Farm Bill Senate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure 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 WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger AT&T, Verizon say they'll stop sharing location data with third-party brokers The Memo: Child separation crisis risks ‘Katrina moment’ for Trump MORE (D-Ore.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger Senators introduce bipartisan bill to detect supply chain risks posing threats to national security Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families 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 Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee 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 Margaret CollinsActress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril 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.”

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Even more is lurking in the background on the September to-do list. The renewed START treaty between the U.S. and Russia is still awaiting Senate ratification, and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE (D-Mass.) has been waging an uphill battle to win over enough Republican votes for approval. A total of 67 votes are needed, meaning that if the treaty is taken up in a lame-duck session, at least eight GOP votes would be needed — assuming all 59 Democrats support it.

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.”