A truncated August congressional recess is under way, but budget and voting rights legislation will take priority over the next month, bringing House members back to Capitol Hill the week of Aug. 23.
The House continues to operate under protocols allowing for proxy voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer’s announcement Tuesday that the chamber would return to consider the budget resolution the Senate adopted Wednesday morning means not all members need to return physically.
The Senate returns Sept. 13, and outside of an extraordinary circumstance where there is consent from both sides or an unprecedented situation where Congress gets adjourned by President Joe Biden, the schedule of pro forma sessions — with no business conducted — is likely to hold.
As the budget resolution vote-a-rama was under way Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer met with the committee chairs who will be tasked with crafting the pieces of the reconciliation measure.
The New York Democrat says he wants the reconciliation bill, which is crafted from the instructions in the $3.5 trillion blueprint adopted on a party-line vote Wednesday, “done on September 15.”
The reconciliation bill is the second of what leaders are calling two-track legislation. The first is the bipartisan infrastructure package the Senate passed Tuesday and sent to the House.
“Many said it was an impossible task, but Democrats in the Senate are determined, fiercely determined, to move President Biden’s build back better agenda forward,” Schumer said Wednesday. “I am very pleased to report that the two-track strategy is right on track.”
When Hoyer announced that the House would be back the week of Aug. 23, he also said it “will remain in session until our business for the week is concluded.”
The calendar posted by the majority leader’s office indicates that members should prepare for votes at least on Aug. 23 and 24. The next scheduled votes after that tentatively remain on the evening of Sept. 20.
The headline item is the budget resolution, which formally unlocks the reconciliation process for the Biden priorities. But the House is also looking to take up voting rights legislation.
The House Administration Committee last Friday released a report alleging that recent voting restrictions have discriminated against minority voters. That’s part of trying to make the case that new legislation is required to combat discriminatory voting laws and policies.
“Among legislation we will likely take up is H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. This critical bill honors the legacy of John Lewis and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement by restoring the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were removed in the disastrous rulings in Shelby v. Holder in 2013 and in the recent Brnovich case,” Hoyer wrote to his colleagues.
The Senate is working on a similar track, with Schumer touting work by a group of Senate Democrats from across the ideological spectrum of the caucus to come up with a compromise voting rights bill that could at least unify the Democratic side.
“Voting rights will be the very first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns,” pointing to the procedural steps he took to set up a debate-limiting vote on taking up a legislative vehicle for a possible compromise in September. But absent any action to curtail the use of the filibuster, such legislation appears to have no shot of advancing in the Senate.
The return of both chambers in mid-September will also be when the Treasury Department is expected to be on the precipice of running out of the so-called extraordinary measures to avoid defaulting on the national debt. In addition, the end of the fiscal year is on Sept. 30, with no agreement yet on top-line spending.
“I cannot believe that the Republicans will let the country default,” Schumer said, adding that one of the reasons Democrats are not planning to use reconciliation to either raise or suspend the debt limit is that the process “limits what you can do there.”
There has also been a strong sense among Democrats that since much of the current debt was incurred while Republicans had more control of the government, any vote should be bipartisan. But a Tuesday letter from 46 Senate Republicans indicated that too could prove challenging.
“Because Democrats are responsible for the spending, they need to take responsibility for increasing the debt ceiling,” wrote the GOP senators, which included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “They have total control of the government, and the unilateral ability to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate their unilateral spending plans.”