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 McConnellEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns 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 ShelbyThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks 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 John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 DainesFilm producer drowns while making political ad in Montana Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag House panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices 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 SullivanSenators weigh potential security risks from Chinese-made drones August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 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 MurkowskiGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Overnight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale 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 CapitoPress beat lawmakers to keep trophy in annual softball game Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up 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 MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions Top Democrat accuses White House of obstructing review related to Trump-Putin communications MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinDemocratic lawmaker calls Trump a 'moron' for his handling of Iran Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need Congress to approve Iran strikes in interview with The Hill | New sanctions hit Iran's supreme leader | Schumer seeks to delay defense bill amid Iran tensions | Esper's first day as acting Pentagon chief Treasury inspector general to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills 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 RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsHouse panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up 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.