With a number of GOP incumbents facing difficult re-election contests this year, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have scrapped plans to keep the Senate in session through the beginning of October, and will instead look to wrap up work on as many appropriations bills and other “must pass” measures before Sept. 27, GOP aides said.
In adjusting the calendar, Frist is aiming to give Members as much time in their home states as possible. The Majority Leader also is hoping to stick to his pledge to complete the work of the 109th Congress by Thanksgiving and is planning a brief week-and-a-half work session following the elections to wrap up work on outstanding appropriations bills.
Of course, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated last year, much of the schedule, and the two parties’ political plans, are largely at the mercy of circumstance. With the peak hurricane season approaching, another series of devastating storms, like last year’s, would almost certainly force Frist to scrap his plans.
Likewise, if the situation in Iraq deteriorates, or if a new round of scandals hits, changes to both the agenda and political calculus would be required.
In addition, the difficulties of running the Senate — something former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has compared to “herding cats” — also will present significant challenges to Frist.
Although Senate GOP and Democratic aides said adjourning by the end of September is an admirable goal, most sources are quick to point out that Frist and other leaders have traditionally made similar vows, only to end up having to break them.
For instance, one GOP aide noted, that while “they’re going to do everything they can to get us out by Oct. 1 ... I’ve heard that before, so I’m not buying any nonrefundable tickets for Oct. 2.”
House Republican leadership aides were similarly skeptical of Frist’s plan for a relatively early adjournment.
“We welcome the Senate’s efforts to get their work done as soon as possible,” said a House GOP leadership aide. “We appreciate their assistance. We hope when we get our work done, they’ll be able to get theirs done.”
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) surprised some of his colleagues in May when he predicted that the House would leave town on the chamber’s scheduled adjournment date of Oct. 6, then return to the Capitol for a very lengthy post-election session.
“We’re going to be here until Christmas,” Boehner said.
The statement took some Members aback, not because they doubted Congress would be here in December, but because leaders traditionally say publicly that they will finish their work on time to keep pressure on the House to continue moving legislation.
While Boehner has been blunt about the House’s prospects for avoiding a lame-duck session, the chamber is actually better positioned than the Senate is to finish in October.
The House already has passed 10 of its 11 appropriations bills, though Republican leaders have hit a snag in their efforts to pass the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill. The measure became tied up when Democrats and some moderate Republicans vowed to attach a politically popular minimum-wage hike.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.