What to Know in Washington: Strife, Attendance Slow Senate Work

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Legislating in the Senate has slowed to a crawl so far this year as partisanship, absences, and other distractions have thwarted substantial floor action.

The chamber’s business has so far largely been confined to confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees and dispensing with Republican-led challenges to administration regulation.

While the Senate has always been the more deliberative chamber by design, the current sluggish pace underscores the difficulty in making laws with a recently divided Congress. Protracted negotiations over government spending during the debt limit stand-off stalled the appropriations process, and Republican objections to even routine nominations has prompted Democrats to expend more floor time considering judiciary and executive agency nominations.

Democrats, who hold a slim majority, also face the challenge of mustering votes as a result of illness and other absences.

Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said attendance is a big factor in how much Senate gets done.

“Attendance drives a lot,” said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We just don’t know any given day how we’re going to be doing. And it’s a reason why this has been been hit and miss.”

The pace may be about to pick up as Senate committees tee up high-impact, bipartisan bills that could hit the floor as soon as this summer and fall.

Even if the chamber increases its legislative activity, disputes between the parties that slowed action in the first half of year aren’t going away.

If the Senate agrees on certain must-pass appropriations and other bills, leaders still face difficult negotiations with House Republicans eager to plant their conservative mark on federal spending and policy. Zach C. Cohen outlines what’s on the agenda and where roadblocks might occur.


  • Biden returns to the White House from San Francisco at 6:20 p.m.
  • The president and first lady welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House at 6:50 p.m. and host him for dinner at 7:15 p.m.


  • The House returns at noon to vote on health insurance bills and a veto override.
  • The Senate returns at 10 a.m. to vote on nominees and a veto override.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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