Democrats hear calls to nix recess
Democratic senators are starting to say the August recess, or at least part of it, should be in peril as the party falls further behind on its legislative agenda.
Bipartisan infrastructure talks have bogged down, and Senate Democrats have only just started work on a reconciliation package, which they hope to use to pass legislative priorities that don’t have Republican support.
Negotiations on police reform, one of the few areas where senators feel more confident about a potential deal, have slowed down. And there’s no progress to report on immigration reform or gun violence legislation. A GOP filibuster on Tuesday prevented the Democratic voting rights bill from even getting a debate on the Senate floor.
Senators are scheduled to leave town for a two-week recess starting Friday. After that, the Senate will be in session for four weeks, until Aug. 6, when it is scheduled to take another long recess until Sept. 13.
A growing number of progressives say Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) needs to think about revising the schedule, arguing the “historic” opportunity to pass a big, bold infrastructure bill is fast disappearing.
“I’m in favor of working right through” the August recess, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee.
“My view is we need to keep at it. I’ve been a strong proponent of really working to get the caucus fully focused on working as fast as possible,” he said of the slow-moving infrastructure negotiations.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who saw his voting rights bill, the For the People Act, get blocked by Republicans, said he’s also willing to stay in town during August, when lawmakers traditionally escape the town’s hot, humid weather for other locations.
“I’m very supportive of accelerating the momentum to counter the delay-and-obstruct tactics” of Republicans, Merkley said. “We need to use every day we can possibly use this year.”
Killing the entire August recess is very unlikely, and senior members of the Senate Democratic leadership don’t seem all that enthusiastic about canceling part of the recess either.
When asked about calls by colleagues to work through August, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) quipped, “Chris Van Hollen of Maryland?? Who else?”
His implication: It’s relatively easy for a senator from a nearby state to call for cutting a recess, which is intended to give lawmakers from far-away states more time to meet with constituents and hold town hall meetings.
It’s because of this valuable face-to-face time with constituents that senators officially call the recess the “state work period.”
Asked last week about Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) call for cutting the recess, Durbin jokingly shot back: “Will you tell Markey to get a life?”
Still, Democratic leaders acknowledge pressure is building.
Merkley wants to keep forcing Republicans to consider the voters’ rights and election reform proposals, and he predicts “additional battles.”
He says election reforms need to pass before the end of the summer to give state election administrators time to implement legislation.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he’s frustrated with the glacial pace of the infrastructure negotiations and urged colleagues to consider working more in August to give themselves a shot to pass the reconciliation package before Labor Day.
“I’m running out of patience and the Senate is running out of time, so working for at least part of the August recess ought to be on the table,” he said.
“This infrastructure package is an historic opportunity that we need to do in August if we can’t get it done in July,” he said. “It has to be done before September or at least have agreement on the basic outlines, even if some of the technical details need to be resolved.”
Blumenthal said too much time has been spent waiting for various bipartisan groups of senators to reach a breakthrough on a scaled-down infrastructure package.
“We can’t go on with this group of eight, group of 20, no pay-fors — right now we have this very amorphous and ambiguous idea that a bipartisan package would be a good thing,” he added.
Merkley, Van Hollen and Markey, along with Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have pressed Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get a big, bold infrastructure investment package to Biden’s desk before the end of summer.
In May, the senators wrote a letter to their leadership urging them to work with committee chairs to “develop a rapid legislative timeline to enact an ambitious and comprehensive proposal before the August recess.”
They argued that getting major infrastructure legislation passed by the end of July or early August would allow them to “use the legislative recess to engage with our constituents in our districts to celebrate, highlight and guide community members through the concrete measures Congress has enacted.”
Durbin on Wednesday acknowledged that unfinished business is piling up.
“I don’t know if we’ll have to stay. I hope we don’t, but we’ve got to get our work done,” he said. “There’s a lot to do and the Senate is a slow-moving vehicle, on a good day.”
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is working on the reconciliation package, said Democrats have a “full plate.”
Asked about calls from colleagues to cancel or cut short the recess, Murray said, “I haven’t thought about it.”
“I think everybody is really pushing to get reconciliation done, and that’s our goal,” she said. “We’ll get done what we can get done.”
Jordain Carney contributed.