Lawmakers tasked with overhauling the federal budget process said Wednesday they’re about the make their colleagues very unhappy by suggesting Congress delay its summer vacation and stick around to finish the annual spending process before another shutdown showdown.
A group of senators said they plan to formally petition Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as early as this week to postpone the annual August break in order to keep everyone in Washington if necessary, working to confirm President Trump’s nominees and get the spending process back on track.
“If Congress hasn’t passed a budget and regular appropriations bills by August, they shouldn’t be able to go on vacation,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican.
Ms. Ernst sits on a 16-member joint select committee tasked with improving the disjointed federal budgeting process. The panel, which is supposed to deliver recommendations by the end of the year, held its second public hearing on Wednesday.
The panel’s big goal is to have Congress finish the annual dozen spending bills needed to keep the government open — rather than resort to repeated shutdown threats, stopgap “continuing resolutions” and “omnibus” bills.
It’s been decades since Congress has accomplished that, and lawmakers are looking for the right prod.
Some have suggested trying to dock members’ pay until they get their work done, but some analysts have said that could violate the 27th Amendment that requires an intervening election before lawmakers’ pay can be changed.
G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told lawmakers that a deficit reduction task force took a look several years ago and found that garnishing the pay of members likely would not pass constitutional muster.
“But legislation to prevent all planned congressional recesses until a biennial budget resolution was adopted could,” he said at Wednesday’s committee meeting.
Sen. David Perdue, who is helping spearhead the request to work through the recess if necessary, said there have to be clear consequences to prod lawmakers to action. He said the letter is meant as an “encouragement” to Mr. McConnell.
“But it’s also a commitment to him that we are willing to do whatever’s necessary to get these confirmations accomplished and also to ensure that we debate the funding bills now in whatever manner they come,” he said.
The White House appears to be on board the push to cancel the recess if Congress still has a backlog of work.
“If we reach August and we still have not completed appropriations work and have not confirmed our nominees, then of course, we’d like to see Congress stay here and continue to do its work,” said Marc Short, the White House’s top liaison to Capitol Hill.
Mr. McConnell’s office said Wednesday he didn’t have any scheduling announcements to make.
His office also pointed to the record number of circuit court nominees he’s helped confirm last year and this year, along with other executive branch nominees, despite “historic Democrat opposition.”
The Kentucky Republican did keep senators in town a few extra weeks last summer as lawmakers tried to hammer out an Obamacare repeal bill, and also used the extra time in session to confirm more of the president’s nominees.
This year’s summer vacation is scheduled to start July 26 for the House and Aug. 3 for the Senate. Both chambers are back after Labor Day, meaning the House is slated for a five-week break and senators are looking at four weeks off.
They also have week-long vacations scheduled around Memorial Day and Independence Day.
Sen. Mike Rounds, who was part of the push to cancel or shorten last year’s vacation, acknowledged Wednesday that lawmakers in both parties are always itching to get out of town in August.
“And if Democrats want to find a way to work with us to try to find a way to get through a major agenda, great,” said Mr. Rounds, South Dakota Republican. “But if they don’t, then we may just have to stay here longer and get the work done.”
Neither the House or Senate has passed a budget for 2019, but the House has already begun to move its spending bills through committee, based on the overall spending limit set in February’s bipartisan deal.
The bills are supposed to be cleared by both chambers and signed by the president before Oct. 1, which is when fiscal year 2019 begins.
In recent years the bills have been bogged down not just by questions over spending levels but also over policy “riders” on issues ranging from abortion to immigration that lawmakers have tried to attach to the measures.
And President Trump said recently he planned to use the coming spending fight to demand that Congress bolster border security, including more money for his border wall.
Mr. Trump had also suggested he might veto the $1.3 trillion “omnibus” spending bill in March, but ended up signing it — though he vowed never to accept another such bill again.
Mr. Rounds said Mr. Trump seemed to be telling lawmakers to find a better way to do things.
“I just think the president is supportive of the idea of actually doing the appropriations process and actually spending some time working our way through the individual bills. I think he’s been very supportive of that,” he said.