Senate GOP eyes early exit
Senate Republican leaders are hoping to let their colleagues hit the campaign trail at the end of next week, acknowledging the slim chances of passing significant legislation other than a government funding stopgap before Election Day.
Republican senators say negotiations between the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are not likely to produce a COVID-19 deal before the election, and their vulnerable colleagues are eager to get back home to campaign. However, Pelosi emphasized this week that the House is committed to getting a coronavirus deal, is in no rush to leave the nation’s capital and has some leverage on the Senate’s plans.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the goal is to finish work on a stopgap spending measure to fund federal departments and agencies beyond Sept. 30, which would free up senators to leave town until after the election.
“That would be ideal if we could get that wrapped up. That will involve a high level of cooperation on both sides,” he said. “That would be great.”
Asked if leaders want to let vulnerable members get back home to campaign, Thune responded: “I’m sure both sides like to have their members out there.”
“I think once we get the CR done, I don’t know there is going to be a lot more business to be transacted,” he said, referring to a continuing resolution to fund the government.
“Ideally if we could get things wrapped up by the end of next week with the Jewish holidays coming the following week … I think that would be a good outcome for everyone and then we’ll take it up again after November,” he said.
The Senate is now scheduled to be out Sept. 28 and 29 in observance of Yom Kippur, and back on Wednesday of that week.
Senators are officially scheduled not to recess for the election until Oct. 9, but no major bills are expected to pass before Election Day other than the funding stopgap.
A second GOP senator said the plan is “we leave next week after the CR and come back after the election,” though the source cautioned “it’s not official.”
In the ongoing standoff on the next coronavirus package, House Democratic leaders could rip the GOP-led Senate for leaving town without a deal. House Democratic leaders have indicated they will allow lawmakers to leave town as long as they could return to Washington, D.C., within a day’s notice for a potential vote. While that undercuts Democratic leverage over the Senate, Pelosi could hit the brakes on a CR and force the upper chamber to adjust its exit plans.
Congress is scheduled to return to Washington the week after Election Day and expected to hold a lame-duck session in December to take up unfinished business, such as the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
Republican lawmakers say if there’s an unexpected breakthrough in the negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders, they can return to town to vote on another relief package. But there’s little hope of a deal before November, despite President Trump urging Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday “to go for the much higher numbers” proposed by Democrats for the cost of the next relief bill.
“We know we need the CR, we’re not going to get anything else done,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “The Dems have made very clear they’re not going to do any legislation other than the CR.”
Rounds said Pelosi’s rejection of a $1.5 trillion compromise plan put forward Tuesday by a bipartisan group of House members in the Problem Solvers Caucus shows there’s not likely to be a deal soon.
“After they made their proposal and it got a really cold response from the Democrat leadership of the House, that told us that she’s going to stick to her political approach,” he said of Pelosi’s negotiating position.
“The bottom line is she thinks she’s better off if they don’t give the president any credit for doing anything between now and the Election Day that could improve the economy,” he said.
Senate Republicans have to defend 23 seats up for reelection while Democrats only have to protect 12 seats. Giving their vulnerable incumbents more time on the campaign trail could make a crucial difference down the homestretch.
“It would be advantageous for our exceptional candidates to be able to go out there, make their case to their respective constituents,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd Young (Ind.).
Young said more time at home would also give Republican incumbents more time “to highlight just how radical the Democratic Party has become nationally and how radical the individual candidates [Senate Democratic Leader] Chuck Schumer [D-N.Y.] recruited are.”
Republicans think they have political cover to leave town after 52 GOP senators voted last week for a targeted $500 billion to $700 billion coronavirus relief bill.
It would have provided $105 billion for colleges and schools to resume classes, $300 a week in federal unemployment assistance, $16 billion for virus testing, and $190 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program small-business loans.
Senate Republican candidates plan to use their time at home to note that not a single Senate Democrat voted for the proposal, which failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.
GOP senators warn, however, that getting out of town at the end of next week will depend on Pelosi moving a clean funding measure through the House in the next several days.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said House Democrats are expected to file a CR in the lower chamber by Friday. That would give the House enough time to pass it early next week and the Senate to act later in the week.
Shelby said whether it includes any additional policy provisions — such as funding for the Postal Service or other Democratic priorities — will determine if Congress can wrap up its work early.
Democratic and Republican leaders have yet to agree on how long the funding measure will last, whether until December or sometime next year.
Senate Republicans are insisting the stopgap measure not extend beyond December, several GOP lawmakers said Wednesday.