When lawmakers return to Washington after the Independence Day recess, they are scheduled to be in session for just three weeks before a five-week recess for the month of August. After the August break, the House is scheduled to be in session just three weeks before a series of legislative deadlines hits on Sept. 30.
With so little accomplished in the first seven months of the year, many have called for Republican leadership to cancel August recess. The calls may seem like little more than political stunts, but they have a very practical purpose: to buy lawmakers more time to accomplish some conservative goals.
Traditionally, August recess serves as a time for lawmakers to return to their districts to campaign or host town halls or assist with constituent services. This year, however, members have so few accomplishments and such a long to-do list, that returning to their districts may be fruitless from a political stand point. Perhaps it would serve them better to stay in Washington and work on the important legislative projects on the docket.
By Sept. 30, they need to enact appropriations measures to fund the discretionary functions of the federal government. Under a regular order context, that would mean 12 separate bills move through both chambers and are signed into law. Recently, Congress has more frequently turned to continuing resolutions or omnibuses to pass spending measures. If Republicans choose one of those options, however, they aren’t likely to accomplish any of their goals within the appropriations process.
For years, they have been hoping to enact conservative spending riders to move some of their agenda. Either way, the spending measure is likely to take up quite a few weeks of floor time.
Also, by late September, Congress must act on the debt ceiling. Again, Republicans have been hoping to use this opportunity to enact more of their agenda, specifically fiscal restraints that would put the federal government on a more sustainable spending path. Democrats are unlikely to yield any ground on this front, especially if a debt-ceiling vehicle is being negotiated at the last minute.
Congress will also need to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Once again, Republicans are hoping to enact conservative reforms on both of these bills, but won’t have the ability to process sweeping overhauls if they wait until the last minute.
Spending, the debt ceiling, and those important expiring authorizations are already a big enough agenda to eat up the remaining scheduled work weeks. But Republicans have a much bigger agenda than just dealing with the strictly “must pass” legislation. Indeed, Republicans have more than a “wish list,” they have a series of direct promises to keep.
To start, Republicans must repeal ObamaCare. Then they need to enact tax reform that lowers rates for families and businesses and broadens the tax base. From there, they have promised to secure the border, rebuild the military, enact regulatory reform and much more.
Canceling August recess is certainly not an ideal solution. However, the time crunch lawmakers face is one of their own making. In order to get serious about their agenda, and avoid the pitfalls of 11th hour negotiating, Republicans must seriously consider cancelling the five-week break they have scheduled for themselves.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 7/2/17