Senate Democrats are running out days before the midterm elections to pass their legislative priorities and confirm President Biden’s judicial nominees, putting pressure on Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DNY) to make tough calls about the schedule in the coming weeks.
The resurgence of COVID-19 infections at the Senate Democratic convention makes the situation even more dire, as Schumer’s plan to pass drug reform before the August recess could be derailed if any of his fellow Democrats test positive next week.
At least four senators have contracted COVID-19 in recent days, and at least two are expected to miss voting this week: Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) announced positive tests late last week, but Smith returned to work Monday.
The fourth Democratic Representative, Senator Pat Leahy (Fatu), was discharged after undergoing a second hip operation, although his office says he will be available to vote if needed.
The Senate suffered another setback Monday when severe weather in the Washington area forced Schumer to delay a vote on a long-awaited bill to provide $52 billion in funding for the domestic semiconductor industry.
“Unfortunately, a number of storms on the East Coast have disrupted the plans of a large number of senators,” Schumer said. “I still hope we can stay on the right track to finalize this legislation as quickly as possible.”
Schumer said the Senate will move alongside honoring our PACT Act, which will provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their service.
A new wave of coronavirus infections may delay actions on the budget adjustment bill, which Democrats hope to take up next week to cut prescription drug costs and expand health insurance support to the Medicare Act.
“If they keep taking people out with COVID, it’s going to be hard to do. Clearly they can’t do reconciliation,” said Senate Whip Jon Thune (RS.D).
Thon Schumer urged delaying the reconciliation bill and scheduling instead a vote on bipartisan bills that could pass even with a few Democrats absent.
“There’s a bunch of bipartisan stuff being filled in,” he said, citing the defense authorization bill. “They prioritize what is being considered in the schedule and what is not, and we’ll find out a lot more about their priorities in the next couple of weeks.”
Schumer cannot afford a single absence in the 50-50 Senate where every Republican is expected to vote against the reconciliation package.
The Democratic leader has made an offer to moderate Republicans like Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Murkowski to consider a vote on prescription drug reform, though he moves it with budget rules to circumvent Republican disruption.
“I say this to our aisle colleagues, our fellow Republicans: If you want to help Americans better afford health care and medication, you have to support the passage of this bill,” he said.
But Republicans are not at all inclined to help Democrats accomplish their agenda, with a few exceptions like the CHIPS bill and the Defense Authorization Measure.
“They’re running out of the runway, which is fine with me,” said Senator John Cornyn (Texas), an advisor to the Republican leadership team.
The busy schedule and the dwindling number of days left to pass the legislation means the same-sex marriage protection bill, which the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed, likely won’t make it to the Senate floor before Labor Day.
Schumer acknowledged Monday “another busy week of a very busy period” and warned that “none of this is easy.”
“There is a lot that we must continue to work on to lower costs to the American people, boost healthcare and drug costs, make sure they go down, confirm highly qualified candidates, protect our fundamental rights and advance the national security interests of the United States,” he said on the ground.
A bill sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) to eliminate the monopolies of big tech companies may be scrapped, and a decision to ratify Finland’s entry into NATO is hanging in limbo.
Meanwhile, weak Senators Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) and Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) are pressing for a vote on a bill to temporarily suspend the gas tax, Schumer needs to know what to do about a bipartisan bill to reduce insulin costs, Which he said he wanted to do before the August break.
These bills are pushed aside to make room on the calendar to help veterans with exposure to toxic substances. Schumer said the bill should return to the floor to fix a “technical error.”
This week, the Senate is expected to wrap up work on the CHIPS bill, which would also provide $81 billion to the National Science Foundation and a 25 percent tax credit for investments in semiconductor manufacturing.
Senate Democrats also face 77 judicial vacancies, including seven appeals courts and 66 district courts, which they must fill by the end of the year. Democrats worry that if they lose control of the upper chamber in November, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will slow the pace of judicial confirmations to a crawl.
The Senate also needs to pass the annual Defense Authorization Bill, the Water Resources Development Act, and a short-term government funding measure to keep federal departments and agencies open after Sept. 30.
The Senate has entered into an agreement to take up the water bill, known as WRDA, at a time to be determined.
Also on the list of legislation to pass is a bill sponsored by Manchin and Collins to update the Electoral Counting Act of 1887 to make clear that the vice president does not have the sole authority to determine or adjudicate disputes over electors when Congress meets in joint session every four years to certify the results of presidential elections.