GOP Senators Have Fix to End Logjam — Work More Hours!
Proposal backed by group of 16 Republicans calls for working weekends, eliminating August recess in order to confirm nominees, pass spending bills
A group of Republican senators turned up the heat Tuesday on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to keep lawmakers working nights and weekends if necessary to pass spending bills on time this year and break the legislative logjam slowing President Donald Trump’s nominees.
Such measures would likely be second nature to most senators’ constituents, but Mondays, Fridays and weekends have long been reserved for travel to and from home states and mixing with constituents.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) organized a news conference Tuesday to highlight a letter he and 15 other Republicans sent to McConnell. They want McConnell to keep the Senate in session on nights and weekends — and even cancel the August recess, if necessary — to break Democratic obstructionism.
“As far as I know, being a member of Congress is the only occupation where you can neglect some of the most important duties and then take a month-long vacation right before the deadline,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said, referring to the October 1 start of the new fiscal year.
The senators spoke at a news conference in Washington, just before a luncheon with Trump and the Senate GOP caucus.
Conservative activists who long have called for a more aggressive approach cheered.
"I'm so excited about this because I feel like the abyss is screaming back after years of screaming into it," said Rachel Bovard, senior policy director of the Conservative Partnership Institute.
At the lunch, Trump reportedly expressed frustration over the slow pace of confirmations. Democrats have used Senate rules to drag out debate even on noncontroversial nominees, requiring the Senate to burn 30 hours for each one.
A Senate committee voted last month to support a rule change that would cut the 30 hours of debate time for all but Supreme Court, appellate court, and Cabinet positions.
McConnell accentuated the positive, telling reporters after the meal that senators were in a "celebratory mood" after confirming Trump's 21st appellate court judge.
But the Perdue-led group insisted this is not good enough. Perdue said there are 276 backlogged nominations because Democrats will not waive the 30-hour debate rule, as previously had been the norm.
"This is nothing but pure, unadulterated obstructionism," Perdue said.
Perdue said hardball tactics would get results. He noted that the Senate approved 77 nominations on one day last August after McConnell threatened to keep the Senate in session.
David Bozell, president of the conservative activist group For America, told LifeZette that McConnell should make that a consistent strategy. He noted that under current practice, Democrats do not even have to show up during the 30-hour window; the confirmation vote simply gets delayed.
"You would see a lot of waving white flags from Democrats if [Democratic Senate Leader Chuck] Schumer made them do a talking filibuster."
"You would see a lot of waving white flags from Democrats if McConnell made them do a talking filibuster," he said.
But Bozell said Republicans cannot put all the blame on Schumer and the Democrats. McConnell has been complicit, he said.
"They really have themselves to blame. That's everybody involved," he said. "It's not just Schumer obstructing."
Bovard said canceling the August break would hurt Democrats more than Republicans in an election year. While 26 Democratic senators are seeking re-election in November, just six Republicans are. That is the widest disparity for a midterm election ever, Bovard said.
Letting Democrats off the hook to go home and campaign while nominations languish is "basically an in-kind contribution to Democrats," she said.
Senators speaking at the news conference said there is another reason to make the Senate work later — the budget. Since the current system took effect in 1974, the Senate has passed all 12 separate spending bills by the deadline just four times.
Many years, Congress passes short-term funding measures for weeks or days at a time before passing a massive, catch-all funding bill that lumps all spending into one giant bill.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said this ugly process stands in sharp contrast to state government in South Dakota, where he served previously as governor and a state senator. Lawmakers must pass a budget during a 40-day session.
"If we didn't get work done, we'd be fired," he said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said if senators do not have enough time for a rationale budgeting process, they can "make more time" by extending the work schedule.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said that would not seem unusual to his constituents.
"In Montana, farmers and ranchers don't work Monday through Thursday and take weekends off," he said. "In Montana, farmers and ranchers don't take an August recess, because cows need to be fed 24 hours a day."
Bovard said passing 12 separate spending bills before the end of the current fiscal year probably is unrealistic this year. But it would be an improvement even to have weeks instead of hours for senators to read the legislation before they vote and an "open" process that allows for amendments and floor debate — rather than backroom deals that typically control congressional spending.
"They just want the opportunity to have a process," she said.