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 SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE (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 HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenWarren stalls confirmation of Biden pick in push for student loan reforms Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers MORE (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 MerkleyJeff MerkleySchumer vows next steps after 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (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 DurbinDick Durbin'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden administration to back bill ending crack, powder cocaine sentence disparity: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats await Manchin decision on voting rights bill MORE (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 MarkeyEd Markey'Fairplay' to launch campaign for children's online protection 'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure MORE’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 PadillaAlex PadillaSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' Democratic divisions threaten Biden's voting push Senate Latino Democrats warn about low Hispanic vaccination rates MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Overnight Health Care: CDC panel meets on vaccines and heart inflammation | Health officials emphasize vaccine is safe | Judge rules Missouri doesn't have to implement Medicaid expansion Democrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments MORE (D-Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum House lawmakers introduce bill to overhaul military justice system Pentagon chief backs change to military sexual assault prosecution MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' On The Money: Biden to fire FHFA director after Supreme Court removes restriction | Yellen pleads with Congress to raise debt ceiling MORE (I-Vt.) have pressed Schumer and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Tim Cook called Pelosi to say tech antitrust bills were rushed MORE (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 MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats block GOP bill to lift mask mandate on public transportation Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Senate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (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.