Senators Might Skip Town ASAP

Incumbent Republicans eager to pass stopgap and maximize time on the campaign trail

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has members of his conference eager to get home for the fall campaign season. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has members of his conference eager to get home for the fall campaign season. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 9, 2016 at 4:47pm

The Senate’s scheduled to be in session through Oct. 7, but lawmakers could attempt to finish up next week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have said they are working to hammer out a deal on a continuing resolution to fund the government past the end of the month, as well as to provide needed supplemental money to combat the Zika virus outbreak.

While senators cannot leave before passing such an agreement, Republicans facing re-election are said to be eager to leave town and get as much time as possible to campaign, especially those who are facing Democratic challengers not tied to a congressional voting schedule.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi told reporters this week that finishing work next week and allowing incumbents to campaign was a “very good suggestion.”

Two sources familiar with GOP leadership’s thinking said that there are serious discussions about the Senate leaving after passing a bipartisan water resources bill and then a stopgap funding bill.

And at least among the House’s GOP appropriators, there’s a recognition of the political predicament facing Senate Republicans.

“I respect the Senate has its priorities,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. “I’m not one that’s critical of Mitch McConnell for wanting to get his members — when his majority is at risk — back home. But again, if that’s going to happen one way or the other, then we ought to get everything else done — as much as we can done before we leave. And then when we come back, there ought to be a commitment to get everything done before the end of the calendar year.”

[House Heading Toward December CR With Possible Add-Ons]

Of course, all this would hinge on McConnell and Reid actually striking an agreement that resolves outstanding issues not only with how to adjust funding levels to fall under budget caps, but also work through a feud over funding for Planned Parenthood that’s prompted Senate Democrats to repeatedly block the most recent version of legislation to fight Zika and also fund the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While there are political incentives to leave town next week, the mechanics of the Senate floor still could make such a move difficult. A vote to limit debate on a compromise spending bill might not come until Friday at the earliest.

Rep. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican who leads the Military Construction-VA subcommittee in the House, said the Senate “is not going to sit around and wait for us to get our acts together.”

He speculated that the House could very well be put in a “take it or leave it” situation by McConnell and Reid, after House Republicans left a conference meeting Friday morning without a plan on how or when they would move a government funding package.

“If the House fails to act, then we will get jammed by the Senate and we will eat whatever they send us, absolutely.”

Lindsey McPherson and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.