WASHINGTON – Republican senators who successfully lobbied Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to truncate lawmakers’ summer break said today that with limited working days left between now and the end of the fiscal year they have to tackle multiple items on President Trump’s agenda.
“The president basically said at the first of the year that there were four major priorities this year. One was healthcare, one was regulation, one was tax and one was the Supreme Court,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said during a press conference with a group of GOP senators.
“We’re moving on most of those, but right now even if we get through healthcare in the next week or two, between now and the end of the fiscal year, we only have 31 working days left and we have the debt ceiling to get through, the budget for 2018, the reconciliation that goes with that and the appropriations process to fund the government before September 30,” he added.
Perdue said not taking the traditional August recess is “much bigger” than repealing and replacing Obamacare.
“We need to get to this tax bill. This bill is the final chapter in getting this economy going that the president laid out earlier this year,” Perdue said. “We just want to make sure we have plenty of time to get all of that done.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) compared Congress to struggling college students.
“We’ve got healthcare. We’ve got budgets. We’ve only got 31 scheduled days in the Senate between now and the end of our fiscal year, Sept. 30, to get a budget passed. This past year we were 7 months into the fiscal year before we finally passed a budget,” Daines said.
“So I don’t see any reason why we need to be leaving this town in August. We should be here doing the people’s business. If you were going to school and you were getting failing grades in your spring semester, you better stay in school for the summer and go to summer school, not take a recess,” he added.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) agreed with Daines.
“What we don’t have is time. What we are running out of is time … so what do we do? We can create more time. We can do that,” Sullivan said.
After the senators’ presser, McConnell announced he would trim the five-week break by two weeks, letting lawmakers go home the third week of August.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said there’s an “enormous amount” of work for Congress to do and that the Senate’s “artificially imposed” deadlines do not “serve the interest” of the American people.
“Whether you are on the left end of the political spectrum or the right end or somewhere in between, it’s difficult to dispute the fact that there’s a lot that needs to be done,” Lee said.
“At this time, it doesn’t make any sense for us to just take the month of August off and I think we ought to continue to work through it. We also even need to look at things like weekends, particularly as we are up against certain time crunches. We’ve got to be prepared to work long hours and certainly not take this recess,” he added.
Lee said he is still currently against the Senate healthcare bill unless some changes are made including allowing people to use pre-tax dollars from health savings accounts to pay premiums as well as adopting the “consumer freedom” language that’s been discussed.
“That’s one way to get me to yes on the bill. If it’s not that particular amendment, some other form of meaningful release from the Title I regulations in the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said the Senate is moving in the right direction on healthcare and must finish the job before the end of the fiscal year.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for the first time in years to actually go back to the American people and say while we are trying to fix a system that’s not working we will at least let you know in advance of the beginning of the next fiscal year what we intend to spend,” he said.
Rounds said the Senate GOP healthcare bill is “better than” Obamacare.
“Our biggest challenge here is trying to get over an Obamacare hangover,” he said. “We can make this a better product than what we have today.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said the Senate has to work “all or a portion” of the August recess to “show some results” to the American people.
“We have got to work longer and harder,” he said. “We can’t pass bills back home. We’ve got to be here.”
Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) said the Senate should work on weekends to tackle the agenda Trump was elected to implement.
“Keep us here through the weekends. Let us work late at night, early in the morning. After all, soldiers, men and women around this world are working all hours of the day and night to protect our country,” he said. “We owe no less than to address the issues and take the time to do it.”