Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants infrastructure. He wants it bad enough that he’s threatening the Senate’s August recess. “We have already made excellent progress towards our goals of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, confronting the threat of climate change, and investing in American families,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats Friday.
That’s by way of getting them ready for a tense few weeks ahead, starting upon their return to D.C. next week. “My intention for this work period is for the Senate to consider both the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions, which is the first step for passing legislation through the reconciliation process,” he writes. “Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do. Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period. [emphasis added]” The Senate is already slated to work the first week of August, and this could push them further into the month. Good.
While they’re at it, maybe they can think about dealing with that whole ‘Supreme Court destroying democracy’ problem. Schumer also tells them that’s a possibility: “And as Majority Leader,” he writes, “I reserve the right to bring back voting rights and democracy reform legislation for another vote on the Senate floor.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t made a similar announcement, having previously said that the House won’t take up either bill until the Senate has passed both. “I have said that I really cannot take up the reconciliation, until we see the infrastructure and—cannot take up the infrastructure until we see infrastructure and reconciliation addressed by the Senate,” Pelosi said Thursday.
The House passed a $715 billion, five-year surface transportation and water infrastructure plan before leaving for the July 4th recess, a bill that included millions in funding for Republican earmarks, but got just two Republican votes. So Democrats had better be ready for any eventuality, including dumping everything on infrastructure—the bipartisan package and everything else—into one big reconciliation bill.
Whatever else the House and Senate manage to do in the next few weeks, they’ve got to deal with a hard deadline of July 31 for the debt ceiling. A two-year deal struck with Trump to suspend the debt limit is expiring. Usually the treasury secretary has a number of actions that can delay a bump up against the debt ceiling for weeks, sometimes months, but not this time, Secretary Janet Yellen has warned. The massive spending that’s been necessary to help the nation recover from COVID-19 has limited her options. “It’s possible that we could reach that point while Congress is out in August,” Yellen warned in June. “I think defaulting on the national debt should be regarded as unthinkable.”
So, yes, it s a very good thing that some or part of the Senate’s August recess is now on hold. That should help clarify some things for all the senators. “It will be used as a way for us to get the job done, the threat of losing August recess when we can go home,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, said. “Maybe that will be used as a carrot on the end of a very big stick.”
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