By Molly K. Hooper - 07/19/11 12:03 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday said the Senate would work weekends until Congress and the White House reach a deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
House leaders offered no new announcements on Monday about their own schedules, but sources said congressional leaders were prepared to keep lawmakers in session through the beginning of the August recess if negotiators fail to reach a deal.
Economists and government officials have warned of an economic catastrophe if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, though some Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), have accused the officials of overstating those risks.
Reid said the Senate would ensure that it meets its deadline by keeping itself in session every day until the debt ceiling is raised.
“The Senate has no more important task than making sure the United States does not fail to pay our bills for pre-existing obligations like Social Security for the first time in our history,” Reid said in a statement.
“To ensure that we meet this responsibility, the Senate will stay in session every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, from now until Congress passes legislation that prevents the United States from defaulting on our obligations.”
Lawmakers in the House said they are leaving their schedules open the first few weeks of August in case the sides do not reach an agreement. The recess is scheduled to begin on Aug. 5, and Congress is not set to return until Sept. 7.
The August recess is traditionally the longest break of the year for members, and a time for them and their staffs to do district work, hold town-hall meetings and take vacations with their families.
But lawmakers have had to work in past Augusts. Last year, members returned to vote on legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits.
With that experience, this year a handful of members told The Hill that they haven’t planned family vacations until the end of the upcoming recess in anticipation of needing to be in Washington.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said he’s “flexible and prepared to do whatever is necessary for the good of the republic.”
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said he instructed his office to keep the schedule cleared at the beginning of next month.
“We never made plans” for the second week of August, Terry said.
“I’ve been telling people that I told my scheduler not to book anything that weekend,” he said of the Aug. 6-7 weekend.
“Have I canceled my plans? I didn’t have any plans,” said Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa).
The ongoing debt-ceiling talks already have prompted members of the House and Senate to cancel previously scheduled weeks in their districts in July.
According to the initial calendar, the House was slated to be home this week, while the Senate was scheduled to be in recess last week. Instead, members in both chambers found themselves in Washington, where congressional leaders and the White House have struggled to make progress toward an agreement.
House GOP leaders intended to hold a vote on a stand-alone balanced-budget amendment on Wednesday, but that plan changed last Friday, when they opted to move the conservative-backed “cut, cap and balance” bill instead.
The White House on Monday said it would veto that bill, which looks to have no chance of moving through the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.
Given the overall impression that negotiators are nowhere near a deal, members are realistic about the chances that they will be working the first few weeks of the traditional summer recess.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said he’s actually rearranged the schedule to make sure he’s able to be in D.C.
“We’re leaving it open. We had plans, but we are going to leave it open; we’re hopeful to get something done,” Buchanan said.