Demand That Congress Cancel Its August Recess, And Demonstrate The ‘Fierce Urgency of Now’

h/t Graphic: The Rachel Maddow show.

This is how the U.S. Senate explains why Congress still has an August Recess (keep in mind that Arizona school children return to classes in late July and August, during excessive heat warnings):

Each year, Congress recesses for the month of August. During the Senate’s early years, senators typically convened a session in December and adjourned in the spring, before the summer heat overwhelmed them and their small staff. When the Senate moved to its current chamber in 1859, senators were optimistic about its “modern” ventilation system, but they found the new system ineffective. The 1920s brought “manufactured weather” to the Senate chamber, but even modern climate control could not cope with the hottest days, forcing 20th-century senators to find ways to escape the summer heat. By the mid-20th century, a more modern air conditioning system brought relief, but year-long sessions presented new problems. By the 1950s the job of a U.S. senator was a full-time, year-round job and there were very few breaks built into the legislative calendar. In 1963, for example, the Senate met from January to December without a break longer than a three-day weekend. Consequently, members of Congress sought a way to establish a summertime recess. In 1970, finally facing the reality of year-long sessions, Congress mandated a summer break as part of the Legislative Reorganization Act. Today, the August recess continues to be a regular feature of the Senate schedule, a chance for senators to spend time with family, meet with constituents in their home states, and catch up on summer reading.

Now, I’ve been in Washington, D.C. in July and August, so I can attest to the oppressive heat and humidity. But our elected representatives have had modern air conditioning since the 1950s for god’s sake, and we live in one of the hottest deserts in the U.S., so don’t expect any sympathy from me. You wanted this job, and by God, you should do it.

The Senate is planning on taking two weeks off for the July 4th holiday (June 26 to July 11) – I’m sorry, but you can take the same 3 day weekend the rest of America gets – and not everyone gets off from work by the way.

The Senate is also planning on taking it “August Recess” this year, which is actually August 7 to September 12 (followed by a short 3 day work week in September). WTF?

Democratic leadership keeps telling us that we have a very short window of time in which to enact the Biden agenda, and we are still in the midst of an existential crisis of democracy from continuing domestic terrorism threats of sedition and insurrection from the MAGA/QAnon personality cult of Donald Trump (Orange Julius Caesar believes he will be “reinstated” in August, when Congress is away on recess?), and an organized effort of Jim Crow 2.0 GQP voter suppression in the states, and extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts just about to begin.

If only the U.S. Senate demonstrated “the fierce urgency of now” of these dire warnings.

The U.S. House under Nancy Pelosi has been doing its job, churning out one piece of legislation after another and sending it over to the dysfunctional Senate where everything is tied up in a legislative logjam because: (1) the Senate is evenly divided, (2) the archaic Senate filibuster rule, and (3) Democrats negotiating against themselves (let’s call it the “Manchin muddle”) in a futile attempt to demonstrate bipartisanship with the Sedition Party that just tried to overturn the election and overthrow American democracy, and replace it with GQP authoritarianism under Orange Julius Caesar.

The GQP insurrection against American democracy is continuing and ongoing – the “Grim Reaper of Democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has vowed that “there will not be one Republican vote” for anything that Democrats want to pass. America does not negotiate with terrorists, foreign or domestic. Period.

Senate Democrats are wasting valuable time they do not have negotiating amongst themselves to appear “bipartisan,” in order to appease prima donna senators like Joe Manchin  and Kyrsten Sinema (and likely a handful of cowards hiding behind them, using them as a a heat shield).

More onerous, Manchin is parroting talking points released in April by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Republican-alligned trade association that recently backed his reelection campaign, as well as former Senator Joe Lieberman’s corporate No Labels organization. Reuters reported U.S. Chamber rewards Senators Manchin, Sinema for opposing Biden initiatives. These self-interested prima donna senators have sold their souls for 30 pieces of silver from billionaire oligarchs. They are not standing on principle, as they claim.

If we are still in the midst of an existential crisis of democracy from continuing domestic terrorism threats of sedition and insurrection from the MAGA/QAnon personality cult of Donald Trump, and an organized effort of Jim Crow 2.0 GQP voter suppression in the states, with extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts just about to begin, there is no time to waste on vacations for senators.

It’s not like they are working all that hard now. Sinema breaks her foot running marathon. The taxpayers do not pay you a salary to pursue your personal hobbies, or to go on vacation, senator.

Playtime is over. It’s time to save American democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to reduce the Senate’s two week July 4th break down to a three day weekend, and to cancel the August recess, to get the work of the American people done. This means to cease humoring prima donna Democratic senators with their dilatory and disingenuous claims of “bipartisanship,” and to reform or kill the Senate filibuster rule.

It also means all 50 senators in the Democratic Caucus and the Vice President need to use their slim majority to ram through the Biden agenda and nominees, just as the “Grim Reaper of Democracy,” Mitch McConnell, would do with his Sedition Caucus if he was still in charge, and every Republican-majority state legislature in the country does routinely (Arizona is Exhibit “A”).

Jonathan Bernstein writes, Congress Should Cancel Its Summer Recess:

Once again, it’s time for President Joe Biden to show more urgency about his agenda. In particular, he should ask Congress to cancel its August recess to get the people’s business done. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer should back him up.

By now, it’s not news that Republicans, using the filibuster and other foot-dragging techniques, are doing their best to obstruct Senate action. To some extent this is about their opposition to Democratic legislation. But it’s more than that. They’re also stretching out how much time is spent on executive-branch nominations they don’t have the votes to defeat, for example, and even delaying those that they don’t object to.

To be sure, if Democrats had the votes, they’d fight back by streamlining Senate procedures to reduce the time it takes to act; for that matter, they’d also eliminate the filibuster, or at least reduce the opportunity to use it. Since they don’t have the votes, the only other option to fight back against obstruction is to add more floor time by canceling district work periods.

Doing so would be no magic bullet for legislation. Still, it would offer the Senate more space to work on those bills that won’t be killed by filibuster, and allow more time to offer and debate amendments. It might also make the threat of a “talking” filibuster more effective. After all, the reason that filibustering minorities don’t give marathon speeches these days is because the majority party wants to work on other business rather than squander limited time on bills that won’t ultimately pass. More time means more options for the majority, and therefore at least the possibility that a talking filibuster would be worth trying in some circumstances.

Additional Senate time would be especially valuable, however, for the basic work of confirming Biden’s executive-branch and judicial nominations. There’s now an increasing logjam of nominations that have been cleared by Senate committees for final action. It’s likely to get worse, with more than 100 nominations still needing committee consideration. The result has been that the confirmation pace has fallen well behind what it was at this point of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s presidencies. Leaving town as currently scheduled for two weeks for the Fourth of July and then another five weeks for August recess without making substantial progress on that gap would be irresponsible.

Of course, Republicans want those recesses as much as Democrats do. It’s quite possible that if Democrats threatened to cancel them, Republicans would relent on obstruction; it’s not so long ago that the Senate would quickly confirm lots of nominees just before the start of most recess periods.

And then there’s the question of Democrats, such as West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who have been reluctant to push ahead with their own party’s agenda. A big theme of this year is the long effort to convince Manchin and others that Republicans will not be reasonable and that reform is the only viable alternative. Framing the recess question around Republican obstruction might help bring them around. No one seems to know what, if anything, could get Manchin to budge. But showing that other Democrats are willing to give up something they value — time away from Washington — in the fight would likely only help. And if the recess is canceled, Manchin’s colleagues can press home the point that the culprit, again, was Republican unwillingness to strike a deal, and that it’s Republican rejection of Senate norms, not the Democrats’ proposed reforms, that are responsible for undermining Senate tradition.

As for Biden, there’s also the chance to show everyone, from voters to bureaucrats, that he really means it when he says that he wants to tackle multiple crises at once. No, it won’t force his opponents to suddenly drop their opposition. But there is something to leading by example, and if Biden and congressional Democrats are willing to stick around in Washington, it may have some positive effects on those around them. It’s hard to see how it could hurt to start talking about it.

Steve Benen adds, The Democratic agenda and the fierce urgency of now (excerpt):

The question now, of course, is what Democrats intend to do with the clicking clock.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein made a compelling case this week that the party could agree to scrap Congress’ August recess, giving Dems more time to do the people’s business. It’s a provocative point — members have looked forward to their August breaks for quite a while, in part because the Capitol didn’t use to have air conditioning and D.C. summers can get quite unpleasant — but it deserves serious consideration.

Remember, at face value, Senate Democrats have a majority for 24 months — a majority that could evaporate in response to an unexpected resignation or death. Given that Mitch McConnell blocked Dems from taking control for all of January, that lowers the total to 23 months. If members head home this August and next, that’s 21 months. Given that we’re in already in June, we can subtract another four full months from the calendar.

Sure, it’s possible Democrats will do well in next year’s midterm elections and get another 24 months, but historical models suggest the president’s party fares poorly in his first midterm cycle, and there’s nothing favorable for Dems about the 2022 Senate map.

All of which suggests the party has every reason to take seriously the fierce urgency of now.

Update: As recently as 2018, Mitch McConnell scaled back the summer break dramatically. “We have a lot of important work to do,” McConnell said at the time. He added that to make progress on spending bills and nominations, “it’s necessary for us to be here in August and to do our work.”

Don’t Senate Dems have “a lot of important work to do” in 2021, too?






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6 thoughts on “Demand That Congress Cancel Its August Recess, And Demonstrate The ‘Fierce Urgency of Now’”

  1. UPDATE 7/9/21: “Chuck Schumer Warns He May Need To Cut Senate’s August Recess Short”, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chuck-schumer-infrastructure-biden_n_60e73575e4b05a8d7b65436a

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that lawmakers may need to cut short their annual summer recess in order to pass two pieces of legislation aimed at overhauling the nation’s infrastructure system.

    “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period,” he wrote in a letter to his colleagues on Friday.

    Schumer reiterated his plan is to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure framework that President Joe Biden agreed to with a group of Republican senators last month, as well as another package containing additional Democratic provisions “on climate change, health care and the caring economy.”

    • Voting rights, Chuck. What about voting rights? Playtime is over, it’s time to bust some heads and to get shit shit done. Model your leadership after “Iron Mike” Mansfield, the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader who served from 1961 to 1977. He would have never tolerated any crap from a lowly freshman senator back bencher like Kyrsten Sinema, and there would have been consequences for a Joe Manchin – take away his committee assignments and assign his office space to a closet or cloak room. There would have been no mollycoddling of these self-centered fools.
  2. The Hill reports that Democratic senators are starting to say the August recess, or at least part of it, should be in peril as the party falls further behind on its legislative agenda. “Democrats hear calls to nix recess”, https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/559986-democrats-hear-calls-to-nix-recess?userid=63200

    Senators are scheduled to leave town for a two-week recess starting Friday. After that, the Senate will be in session for four weeks, until Aug. 6, when it is scheduled to take another long recess until Sept. 13.

    A growing number of progressives say Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) needs to think about revising the schedule, arguing the “historic” opportunity to pass a big, bold infrastructure bill is fast disappearing.

    “I’m in favor of working right through” the August recess, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee.

    “My view is we need to keep at it. I’ve been a strong proponent of really working to get the caucus fully focused on working as fast as possible,” he said of the slow-moving infrastructure negotiations.

    Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who saw his voting rights bill, the For the People Act, get blocked by Republicans, said he’s also willing to stay in town during August, when lawmakers traditionally escape the town’s hot, humid weather for other locations.

    “I’m very supportive of accelerating the momentum to counter the delay-and-obstruct tactics” of Republicans, Merkley said. “We need to use every day we can possibly use this year.”

    Political Stasis: “Killing the entire August recess is very unlikely, and senior members of the Senate Democratic leadership don’t seem all that enthusiastic about canceling part of the recess either.”

    Still, Democratic leaders acknowledge pressure is building.

  3. Jenise (responding on your comment),
    I think you have it backward. We (Democrats) should be taking every dollar we can from people like the Chambers of Commerce, Koch brothers, etc. Every dollar they give to a Democrat is one dollar they can’t spend on Republicans and other bad causes. We can put their dollars to good use.

  4. Thanks for the information about the US Chamber of Commerce donating to Sinema and Manchin. Can you do a piece on the connection between local Chambers of Commerce and the US Chamber? I have written to local groups that are C of C members and they have assured me they are not connection to US Chamber. I don’t believe it. I would like to let local businesses know I won’t support them if any of their dues go to US Chamber.

  5. Lots of important points made!
    Unfortunately many Americans think Representatives and Senators (National and State) are not working unless they are in session in their respective chambers. It would be useful if more of us recognized the need for background research, preparation and in person communication that should occur outside of chambers.

    • Like running marathons and “Iron Man” competitions? Maybe Sen. Sinema should read the history lessons I have been giving her on the Senate Filibuster. She clearly doesn’t know what the hell she is talking about.

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