“No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” Surrogate court Judge Gideon Tucker once wrote. If that’s true, then watch out when the US Senate gets transformed into a 24/7 operation. A group of Republican members have sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to declare an ongoing, never-ending session for the next two months in order to clear the backlog caused by “unprecedented obstruction” from Democrats. Sen. David Perdue’s office released the text of the letter earlier today in an e-mail:
The 115th Congress is being disrupted by sustained, partisan obstruction. We believe our conference must be willing to change how the Senate operates both by tradition and by rule.
We appreciate your acknowledging our concerns and applaud your plan to work nights and weekends when necessary to overcome this gridlock. You have our full support to turn the Senate on full time, 24/7, to advance the president’s agenda, including a meaningful health care solution, bold changes to our tax code, and funding the government by year’s end.
As you know, one glaring example of this unprecedented obstruction is the minority party’s perversion of Senate rules to undercut the confirmation process of the administration’s nominees and judicial appointments. When new presidents are elected, they have always been given an opportunity to put their team in place in short order. Historically, this is not just a common courtesy, it is an expectation of Americans to have a seamless transition of power resulting in a functioning federal government.
It is abundantly clear that the tactics employed by the minority are designed to imperil the new administration and its agenda. Overcoming this obstruction will require a real commitment on our part. An aggressive work calendar, as you have proposed, which should include nights and weekends, will enable administration and judicial nominees to be confirmed more quickly.
You have our pledge to be available for voting day and night and we offer our time to preside over the Senate when necessary to keep us on track. Given the unprecedented obstruction by our colleagues across the aisle, we hope you will also take a renewed look at the rules governing executive branch nominations.
Our conference should always remember that we are fighting for hardworking Americans. In their daily lives, when there is work to be done – whether on assembly lines, in the fields of family farms, fishing in our bountiful waters, or standing in harm’s way – everyday Americans do what it takes to get the job done. We owe them the same unrelenting effort in the job they gave us to do.
Does this really solve anything? The issue so far in this session of Congress isn’t a lack of time to accomplish anything, but a lack of will. If Republicans can’t get to 50 on ObamaCare repeal after spending seven years pledging to get it done, that’s not a clock issue as much as it is a lack of preparation. Even on judicial nominations, the biggest issue was a lack of nominations from the White House, which has now been picking up the pace.
It doesn’t help that some of the business they want to expedite is pointless in the first place. Here’s what Perdue argued yesterday about the “sham” budgetary process on CNBC:
Let’s be very clear. This budget is a sham. It’s a fraud that’s been perpetrated for the last 43 years since the Budget Act of 1974. The only reason we’re doing the budget like this, 18 days after the beginning of our fiscal year, is to get to a vehicle to get tax done this year….
This is a resolution. It has nothing to do with how we’ll fund the government. Congress already passed a short-term spending deal that got us past the end of the fiscal year. Sometime between now and December 8th, six people will get in a room and decide how to spend over $1 trillion, and the rest of us will get an up or down vote on that.
On that point, though, the clock does matter. McConnell has decided to keep the 30-hour debate rule on confirmations in place, and there will be at least 166 openings on the federal bench by the end of the year. If Democrats insist on getting all 30 hours on every nomination, it will take 207.5 days of debate to confirm all 166 positions, assuming a 24/7 Senate and no other business on the agenda. This policy would have to stay in place until the end of 2018, not 2017, to clear that many appointments.
This idea seems more aspirational than practical, however, especially over a long haul. Senators would have to work in shifts, and their staffers as well, to keep the chamber open 24/7. That will make organizing quorums for floor votes difficult, even if the Senate was filled with spring chickens, which it most assuredly is not. Thad Cochran is barely functional on a part-time basis, and he’s only the eighth oldest Senator currently serving. Twenty-four Senators are 70 or older, nearly a quarter of the chamber, and only 14 are under the age of 50. An occasional all-nighter might work, but two months of that kind of schedule will have senators dropping out, or worse.
Perhaps it might be better to fix the rules that require this much time to get past nominations. Going to eight hours of debate for confirmations would only require 55.3 continuous 24-hour days to process nominations, and it’s very doubtful that the extra 22 hours will reveal anything that can’t be discussed in the first eight.