By Alexander Bolton - 07/25/14 06:00 AM EDT
Lawmakers have been in a rush all of this election year to get back to their home states, and Senate leaders are helping them with the upper chamber’s schedule.
The Senate has held its last vote of the week like clockwork at 1:45 p.m. on recent Thursdays, giving lawmakers a chance to catch early flights home back home.
Yesterday was the fifth Thursday since the beginning of June that Senate leaders scheduled the last vote of the week at around 1:45 pm.
Two other end-of-week votes held during that span took place at 2:04 p.m. and 2:29 p.m.
In May, the Senate held its last votes of the week at 2:28 p.m., 2:44 p.m., 3:21 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., each time on a Thursday.
“I wonder who needs to catch a flight on Thursday afternoons,” one GOP aide quipped.
A senior Democratic aide said the string of early Thursday votes happened by coincidence and was not motivated by a master plan to help keep Democrats in control of the Senate.
And a reporter visiting Ronald Reagan National Airport on Thursday saw only Republican senators taking advantage of the short workday.
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, was spotted ambling down Reagan’s vaulted grand concourse on his way to a U.S. Airways flight to Birmingham, Ala., that left at 4:25 p.m. from Gate 35A.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), sporting an artichoke green polo shirt, was wheeling his roller bag down the concourse at 4:10 p.m.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), wearing blue jeans and an earth-toned sports blazer over his T-shirt, was spotted outside the security line to Gates 10-22 chatting on his cellphone.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) controls the schedule, but the timing of votes depends on getting an agreement with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and every other member of the upper chamber.
McConnell has vowed to keep the Senate in session late hours and working five days a week if Republicans take control of the majority.
But Democrats note that many Republicans seem eager to relish three-day weekends and leaving town early on Thursdays.
Thursday votes are often moved up to earlier in the day after all members of the chamber agree to yield back procedural time to avoid staying into the evening just to watch the clock tick down.
“We chuckle every time we hear the Republicans talk about how they’re going to institute a five-day workweek if they’re in charge,” said the Democratic aide. “McConnell is usually the first one out of here on Thursdays and often doesn’t arrive in time for the opening on Mondays at 2 p.m.”
McConnell is the Republican incumbent facing the toughest reelection race in a year where several Democrats face hard battles.A senior GOP aide said Reid has ultimate authority over the schedule and votes.
“Only Reid can set the Senate schedule and everyone knows that when he closes the chamber for the week, Sen. McConnell goes to Kentucky,” the aide said.
Several Democrats could also benefit from a short workweek, however, if they want to get back home to campaign.
Delta has a flight that leaves Reagan National at 2:45 p.m. on Thursdays and connects in Minneapolis to a flight that arrives in Anchorage, Alaska, at 8:35 p.m. local time. That would be an ideal connection for Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who faces one of the toughest races in the country.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), another vulnerable incumbent, could take advantage of a U.S. Airways flight that leaves Reagan National at 3:25 p.m. and arrives in Charlotte, N.C., at 4:53 p.m.
Early votes could let Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) catch the 3:25 p.m. U.S. Airways flight from Washington to New Orleans.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) could get back to his tight reelection race by boarding the 4 p.m. Delta flight to Atlanta, which connects to another that lands in Little Rock, Ark., at 7:30 p.m.
McConnell was not one of the lawmakers who left town early this week. He gave a speech on Burma and the need to help fund Israel's Iron Dome missile defense shield at 5:45 p.m.
It’s not as if the Senate is getting a ton of legislation done this year.
“People have better places to be,” said the Democratic aide, who referred to months of procedural obstruction Democrats blame on Republicans, and which Democrats say has rendered the Senate dysfunctional.
Republicans, for their part, argue Reid has turned the Senate into a fiefdom, where the minority is not allowed to offer amendments.
There’s no shortage of pressing business that needs to be finished by year’s end.
The Highway Trust Fund is due to run out of money next month and needs a patch to fund transportation projects through December.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned lawmakers that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement will run out of money by mid-August because of a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
The Export-Import Bank’s charter will expire in September, and the Senate has not yet voted on any of the annual appropriations bills.
Democrats and Republicans have blamed each other for the gridlock.
On Friday, the House, which is also spending less time in Washington, is scheduled to be in session. The Senate will be out.
— This story was updated at 3:43 p.m.