- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

House and Senate Democrats told Republican leaders Thursday to postpone a Memorial Day recess until their demands for Supreme Court nomination hearings and emergency spending to combat the Zika virus and other crises are met.

From the opioids and heroin crisis to the lead-tainted water scandal in Flint, Mich., Congress faces a larger workload than ever but has opted to work less in a contentious election year, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Congress is set to skip town Thursday for its Memorial Day break and will not return until the second week of June.

“We have work to do — cancel the recess, stay here, do your job,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said, assembling with Democrats on the east steps of the Capitol in front of a bank of cameras and onlooking tourists.

Republicans say their rivals are using the crises as a political cudgel to extract spending that isn’t offset with cuts elsewhere, when they should be funding health agencies through the regular budgeting process.

They mocked Democrats for holding Thursday’s press event in the direct sun, only to take off without fielding questions.

“They also must have blown your irony meters — while they were over there calling on the Senate to do its job, they are simultaneously preventing the Senate from doing its job by blocking the bipartisan defense bill,” said Donald Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

For now, they insist that Congress has millions sitting in federal accounts to combat the prescription opioids crisis, while state funding will be paired with a Senate deal to address the Flint water crisis.

GOP negotiators are trying to reconcile a $1.1 billion Senate deal to gird for the Zika virus, which causes serious birth defects, with a House bill that would take $622 million from the Ebola fight in West Africa and other health programs to deal with the mosquito-borne illness.

“The House has acted to provide the funding we need this year to combat the Zika virus and kill mosquitos,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said. “Now, we need to go to conference to negotiate a solution with the Senate that is responsible and effective.”

Mrs. Pelosi named five Democrats to that conference Thursday, even as her party says Republicans haven’t taken Zika and other crises seriously.

Both Zika measures, for instance, are far short of the $1.9 billion in emergency spending that President Obama requested.

“Our top public health officials have been extremely clear: $1.9 billion is the amount needed to protect American children and families from Zika,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Anything less will severely damage our ability to respond to this virus, and endanger Americans across the country.”

From the Capitol steps, Democrats applauded each other and repeated their mantra of the year — “Do your job.”

The setting allowed them to point out the Supreme Court across the lawn, which is operating with eight members after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February.

Republicans have said they will not hold hearing on President Obama’s pick to replace Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland. They want the next president to fill the vacancy, so the American people have a say.

Democrats said Mr. McConnell’s refusal to take up the nominee is a dereliction of duty that allows conflicts in the lower courts to languish.

“The Supreme Court must resolve these conflicts and settle the law,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat, said.

Notably absent from their to-do list was the unfolding crisis in Puerto Rico, where officials say they cannot pay $72 billion in bond debt and need restructuring powers from Congress.

Democrats linked arms with GOP members and pushed a rescue bill through the House Natural Resources Committee on a 29-10 vote Wednesday.

The bill, which imposes an oversight board to review the territorial government’s decisions and petition for debt restructuring, must still clear the full House and then the Senate before it reaches Mr. Obama.

Top Democrats and the Treasury say the latest version of the legislation is the best they can do in a divided Congress.

Yet Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, and Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, rejected that view at a joint news conference Thursday, saying the board of seven appointed members is too powerful and tilted toward GOP representation.

They will demand changes or else reject the measure, even as Puerto Rico nears a July 1 deadline to pay creditors $1 billion.

“I don’t believe in being jammed for a bad bill,” Mr. Menendez said.

For his part, Mr. Reid has cautioned his troops to hold their fire until the House sends over a finished product.

“Let’s wait until we get the bill before we start choosing sides,” he told reporters earlier this week.

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