Harry Reid is holding Patrick J. Toomey hostage.
At least that is what a growing number of Republicans are openly speculating, promoting the notion that the Senate’s departing minority leader is slow-walking spending talks to keep the most vulnerable GOP incumbents tethered to the Capitol and away from the campaign trail.
“If I were a partisan Democrat, I would want to keep the Senate in session until Election Day, and he’s a partisan Democrat,” said Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The one piece of must-pass business before the election is a continuing resolution to patch government funding into December. The Senate agreed Monday to delay a scheduled vote to limit debate on taking up the “shell” of an appropriations bill to use as the CR (which is essentially a blank piece of paper until a deal’s announced).
Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota, who is not a member of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters that Democratic appropriators basically went silent after receiving an offer on Friday.
“I think there wasn’t any particular rush on their side to get this done,” Thune said. “I think it’s advantageous for them for us to be here. … There’s always, at this time of year, a certain political calculus that comes into this.”
One Republican appropriator said he was basically telling colleagues, “I told you so,” about the pace of the negotiations.
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was quick to cry foul.
“After taking the longest summer recess in more than 60 years, Republicans are again sprinting for the exits on their way to working the fewest days in a year of any Senate in the last half-century. The American people expect their senators to go to work and do their jobs,” Jentleson said.
While top GOP aides have made it clear that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was told by some in his conference to wrap up work as quickly as possible, the Democrats say they were never told the work period would be truncated. The Senate is scheduled to be in session through Oct. 7.
The contours of an agreement were becoming more clear Monday. Reports emerged that Republicans were dropping their insistence on blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving funds from a package to fight the Zika virus outbreak that is expected to be paired with the CR.
“The whole Zika issue has been resolved and they’re dropping all their riders,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in Senate leadership. “Louisiana is not resolved because they want to do Louisiana, we want to do Flint. They don’t want to do Flint.”
Schumer was referring to the requests for emergency aid to respond to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the recent historic flooding in Louisiana.
Asked about a separate effort to block the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose political spending, Schumer demurred.
“There’s a lot of back and forth. That’s all,” he said.
Democrats have been making campaign plans, as well. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is scheduled to make a trip to New Hampshire this weekend in support of both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Gov. Maggie Hassan, the Democrat challenging Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the Granite State in one of the most closely-watched races in the country.
There is also the question of whether Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine would need to be called back for any close votes on an agreement. He is spending much of his time away from the Capitol while running for vice president, but he has told reporters he will return when necessary.