Senate Returns With Big Agenda, Little Time as Midterms Loom

  • Leaders work to confirm nominees, move legislative priorities
  • Democrats’ control of 50-50 chamber on line in fall elections

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Congress comes back Monday for a five-week stretch, with Democratic leaders under heavy pressure to deliver on key priorities before the midterm elections.

Those include additional supplemental spending plans to address pandemic relief and Russia’s war on Ukraine, legislation to enhance U.S. competition with China and support domestic chip manufacturing, and confirming President Joe Biden’s picks for federal agencies and courts.

Democrats plan to make an all-out push to get these and other must-dos finished before lawmakers head for the campaign trail this summer.

“There is a large body of work to be done,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said as he previewed the long days of voting to come. “Members are really worn out over nominations, but we have no choice.”

The Senate will kick off the work period with votes on nominees for the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission, some of the more than 100 Biden administration nominations awaiting action.

Democratic and GOP leaders on the House and Senate Appropriations committees will meet this week to discuss potential top-line numbers on fiscal 2023 domestic and defense spending. Both sides named conferees to hammer out a final deal on legislation (H.R. 4521) boosting domestic manufacturing, particularly in the semiconductor industry. Senators are hoping to hash out a compromise to lower out-of-pocket costs for insulin.

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference following the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the Capitol on April 5.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to revisit the $10 billion plan (H.R. 4373) to boost pandemic preparedness. That stalled on the eve of the spring recess because of efforts to attach an amendment that would halt the administration’s move to end Title 42, a pandemic-related immigration restriction. Biden is also asking for billions in supplemental defense funding to help Ukraine fight Russia, a move Republicans strongly support.

“At the rate we’re shipping them weapons and ammunition we may need to do another supplemental,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at an event in Kentucky during the recess. “And it’s not just for the Ukrainians, because when we ask the frontline NATO countries to transfer weapons they need to be backfilled.”

The pressure to move quickly on these priorities is particularly acute in the Senate, where House-passed items including a budget reconciliation package (H.R. 5376) stalled in the 50-50 chamber. Schumer is still trying to revive that social spending budget plan with voter-friendly provisions this spring.

Even when the caucus is all in agreement, medical maladies and travel trouble have sometimes postponed their agenda. With the majority at stake in the fall, their control of the floor may be short-lived.

Read More: McConnell Bullish on GOP Retaking Senate, Blocking Biden Agenda

Republicans “are really wanting to slow walk us as much as possible, and so it’s all about using time as efficiently as possible,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership.

Time to Process

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they expect more long evening sessions to process these priorities. McConnell has required Schumer to file cloture to head off potential filibuster threats on even non-controversial measures. McConnell said Republicans are taking a much more “assertive” stance on nominees, particularly for the judiciary.

“Hell, they’re holding up U.S. attorneys for Christ’s sakes,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “It’s ridiculous. I mean, if there was a reason for it, I’d say ‘fine,’ but there’s really no reason. They’re just doing it to be obstructionists.”

As long as Democrats hold together, they can discharge nominees from committee, limit debate, and confirm them – though each of those steps takes up time and may require an assist from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Schumer has kept the Senate in session later than typically seen in order to schedule votes and hash out deals. That has often meant stacking up votes late on Wednesdays, when senators are halfway through their work week and getting ready to catch flights on Thursday afternoon.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said backroom talks during recent late-night sessions have yielded deals, including one he helped broker to allow bills banning the importation of Russian oil Public Law 117-09and suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus Public Law 117-10 to both pass on 100-0 votes.

While there were late nights under leaders in both parties since he took his seat in 1999, Crapo said they’re “a function of the increased level of conflict between the parties that makes it much slower to process legislation.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bgov.com; Zach C. Cohen in Washington at zcohen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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