Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
The Senate’s planned departure date next week is in question, as Democrats push to pass a tax, climate, and health care bill through the budget reconciliation process before leaving town until September.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) told fellow Democrats at a caucus meeting Thursday to prepare to work through next weekend, according to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). That would cancel at least the first couple of days of August recess — not that Democrats, who are enthusiastic about achieving more of President Joe Biden’s agenda, were complaining.
“Congress should stay in session as long as it takes to get this bill to President Biden’s desk,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said.
The exact timing for passing the bill (H.R. 5376) is being driven by the factors necessary to use the extensive process, which requires only a simple majority, and by potential Covid-19 infections, which hit the Democratic caucus again Thursday when Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) announced he’d tested positive.
The clock started Wednesday night when Schumer submitted to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough the text of the 725-page spending and deficit-reduction package, which Schumer agreed to hours earlier with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
MacDonough and her staff must pore over the details to make sure it comports with statutory rules that would allow Democrats to approve the legislation without the support of Republicans in the evenly divided chamber.
Democrats are still awaiting a response from MacDonough related to the previously submitted drug pricing provisions. That process has taken weeks as Democratic staff went back-and-forth with MacDonough and Republican staff over how the legislation complies with the rules.
Senators are aiming for a shorter ruling timeline on the package’s expansive new provisions. Manchin said negotiators aimed to get text finalized by Wednesday night to give the parliamentarian enough time to comb through the bill and for senators to approve it before the Saturday of the first weekend of recess.
Schumer sounded optimistic about that timeline as of Thursday afternoon.
“I expect the remaining work with the parliamentarian will be completed in the coming days, and the Senate will vote on this transformative legislation next week,” Schumer said at a news conference.
Assuming Democrats can get all 50 members of the caucus to support the bill, senators will have to endure a marathon session known as a vote-a-rama, when any member can force a vote on amendments, before sending the bill to the House.
When Democrats last passed a budget reconciliation bill (Public Law 117-2), senators voted for 12 straight hours, overnight, to dispense with dozens of Republican amendments.
“I expect it’s going to be hectic next week,” Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.
Whatever the Senate passes would need to be approved by the House, which is scheduled to leave for its August recess Friday. House members are expecting to return for a short session in August for votes, but it’s unclear when.
A key date to watch is Aug. 9, when Minnesota holds a special election to replace the late Jim Hagedorn (R). A Republican is favored to win, and once sworn in would shrink the Democrats’ margin. That would mean any more than three no votes from their caucus could sink the bill.
The difference might be more consequential for other legislation that could also receive votes next month. House Democrats are continuing to negotiate a package of public safety bills, including some that would provide funding to police departments, and an assault weapons ban (H.R. 1808).
Unlike in the Senate, House Democrats have the option of voting by proxy, which should help scheduling a fly-in day during a hectic primary season. Nine states are holding primaries between Aug. 9 and 23, including Florida and New York on the latter date.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said House timing depends on the Senate, and he’s told lawmakers he’ll give them 72 hours’ notice before a vote.
“Whenever we do it, it’s going to inconvenience people,” he said in an interview.
Alex Ruoff in Washington also contributed to this story.