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August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up

August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up
© Greg Nash

The lack of a spending deal with fewer than 20 legislative days remaining until the August recess is prompting some GOP senators to discuss the possibility of cutting short the Senate’s August break.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is up for reelection next year, said he will ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Appointing a credible, non-partisan Jan. 6 commission should not be difficult Why President Biden is all-in in infrastructure MORE (R-Ky.) to consider trimming the annual recess in order to tackle government spending bills.

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The effort to shorten the recess was successful in 2018 after Perdue and other lawmakers sounded the alarm on a pileup of spending measures. This year, the Senate is even further behind schedule on its to-do list.

Senators have done little legislating this year and still have on their agenda a border supplemental spending bill, defense authorization, a highway reauthorization and the annual appropriations bills.

“We only have 19 working days between now and the end of July. If we don’t stay here in August at least some of the time, it’s hard for me to believe we’re going to get all of this appropriated by Sept. 30,” Perdue said Tuesday, citing the end of the fiscal year.

“We have got to get defense and HHS done,” he added, referring to the two biggest spending bills funding the Pentagon and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

“If we don’t get it done, I’m still of the mind that we need to be here in August. I don’t know how it would be any other way. It’s just a reality, we’re not doing our jobs and we got to get it done,” Perdue said.

Perdue has been a leading proponent of budget and spending reform efforts. Last year, he promoted a plan “to fix the broken spending process” and has argued for imposing consequences if Congress fails to meet certain goals for getting its work done, such as barring funding for lawmakers’ travel to foreign countries.

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The prospect of getting this year’s appropriations process moving in the Senate suffered another setback Tuesday when a meeting scheduled between McConnell, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Senate GOP opens door to earmarks Five takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal MORE (R-Ala.) and senior White House officials was postponed. It’s now due to take place Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Republicans told McConnell at a lunch meeting Tuesday that they want to make sure President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham: 'I could not disagree more' with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal GOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign Former GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer resigns MORE is on board with the top-line spending levels before moving ahead with the appropriations process, according to a GOP lawmaker who attended the session.

McConnell canceled much of the August recess last year after coming under pressure from colleagues who said the Senate needed to catch up on its backlog of work.

Perdue has the support of GOP colleagues who want to instill more of a results-oriented private sector mentality in the Senate, where business often moves at a glacial pace.

“I’d support that,” Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Trump faces test of power with early endorsements OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies MORE (R-Mont.) said when asked about cutting the August recess. “We need to be focusing on results and outcomes, and the failure to produce appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year is a failure of Congress.”

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured GOP lawmakers ask Biden administration for guidance on reopening cruise industry MORE (R-Alaska) said he supports senators working more hours, whether during August or on the weekend, noting that average American workers put in more days on the job.

“I’ve been a very consistent supporter of just working long hours, more days, like the rest of America does,” he said. “If we got more work to do and we can do it, that’s the key — we can do it — I would be favorable of working more hours, whether it comes out of the recess or staying here later.”

Perdue, Daines and Sullivan were among a group of 16 senators who signed a letter to McConnell last year urging him to cancel the August recess.

The Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t advanced any spending bills this year, while the House Appropriations panel has already voted on all 12 annual spending measures.

The Senate committee last year had voted on seven of the annual spending bills by mid-June and all 12 by the end of June.

This year’s Senate is far behind that pace largely because of a failure to reach a deal with the White House and Democrats in the House on budget caps. The House has moved ahead despite the lack of top-line fiscal numbers.

The Senate has spent most of 2019 voting on Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees.

McConnell and the Senate GOP caucus were able to score political points in 2018 by pledging to work through much of the August recess in an election year.

But this time around, when there is no election on the calendar and the Senate is doing little legislating, McConnell is likely to run into stiff opposition from some Republican colleagues if he tries to reduce the recess.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (R-Alaska) made a sideways chopping motion Tuesday when asked about cutting short the August recess, as though she were trying to kill the idea in mid-air.

“You know, I got an explicit promise from the leader last year that last year was a one-off,” she said. “I’m all about working long hours, but I’ve got one of the longest commutes in the whole United States Senate.”

“I’m happy to be here on Monday and I’m happy to be here on Friday and I’m happy to be here in the evenings. But do not mess with the one block of time when I can get out to Eek and Egegik and Angoon and get beyond just Anchorage. This is how I do my work as a United States senator,” she said, referring to cities spread around her enormous state.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOn The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump official delayed releasing information on cancer-linked chemical in Illinois: watchdog | Advocacy groups say tech giants need to 'step it up' on sustainability |  GOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats MORE (R-W.Va.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, predicted “there’s going to be some serious pushback” on any move to cut the August recess short.

“We should be able to get it done in the time allotted,” she said, expressing hope that McConnell and Shelby can reach a deal with the White House on spending limits this week.

The Wednesday meeting between McConnell, Shelby, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE and acting White House budget director Russell Vought has been rescheduled to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Even some lawmakers who supported cutting the recess last year, including Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsCongress looks to rein in Biden's war powers Columbine and the era of the mass shooter, two decades on GOP senator tweets statue of himself holding gun to Biden: 'Come and take it' MORE (R-S.D.), say they hope to avoid going down that path again.

“On the Senate side, we would like to get some things moving. We may very well have to start doing our stuff fairly quickly,” he said. “The one thing we do have to do is come to a top-end number.”

“We’re running out of time,” he said.