McConnell: On second thought, let's work until mid-August

At least. The demand from Senate Republicans to cancel the August recess as the GOP agenda stalls finally forced Mitch McConnell to offer a compromise. He won’t cancel the recess, but he’ll delay it two weeks in order to get key legislation passed — especially the ObamaCare reform bill that will get introduced later this week.

If that doesn’t pass, then what? McConnell suggests that Republicans will turn to the confirmation calendar instead:

“Once the Senate completes its work on health care reform, we will turn to other important issues including the National Defense Authorization Act and the backlog of critical nominations that have been mindlessly stalled by Democrats.

“In order to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items and process nominees that have been stalled by a lack of cooperation from our friends across the aisle, the Senate will delay the start of the August recess until the third week of August.”

If the recess is conditional on the passage of the BCRA, then Senators and their aides may need to cancel Christmas, too. Politico reports this afternoon that the revamped version of the BCRA is not healing the divides that resulted from the first version prior to the Independence Day recess. Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley told Fox News earlier today that he was “very pessimistic,” and that seems to be the only thing on which Senate Republicans agree this week:

Tensions are rising between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team and his party’s ideological factions, with a renewed sense of pessimism creeping into the Senate GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.

An amendment written by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) is fracturing the conference, with the measure taking center stage at the party’s first caucus lunch in nearly two weeks on Tuesday. Though the proposal to allow the sale of cheap, deregulated insurance plans is championed by the right, disagreements over the drafting of the amendment could delay or torpedo altogether the GOP’s healthcare bill. …

Privately, senators and aides offered even more dour assessments. Several said McConnell remains well short of the 50 votes needed to start debate on the bill.

Also short of support is Cruz and Lee’s amendment, which has had its future complicated by a game of telephone between GOP leaders and the two conservative senators.

That’s one reason to cancel the recess in and of itself. Late last week, I offered some other reasons along the same lines in a column for The Week:

Nine of Sasse’s Republican colleagues agree. In a letter to McConnell, the group pointed out that closing down in August only leaves 33 legislative days before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That offers an inadequate amount of time to successfully conclude the health-care reform negotiations as well as the tax-reform proposals pushed by the White House. Both need to be passed before the budget for fiscal year 2018, unless Congress decides to kick that can down the road a little longer with a continuing resolution that more or less leaves the spending priorities of the Obama administration in place for several weeks.

Many conservatives in the House want to keep working in August as well. The Freedom Caucus called on House Speaker Paul Ryan two weeks ago to forgo the recess to accelerate progress on the Republican agenda. Given the frustrations of leadership with the Freedom Caucus over the last few months, it might not do much for Ryan’s intent regarding August, but it joins a growing chorus of concern over the quagmire in which the GOP finds its agenda and the rapidly declining amount of time to get it unstuck. …

There seems to be little reason for the August recess except as an escape, and the timing of it is particularly questionable. Every year, Congress has to pass a budget, an enormously complicated set of negotiations between 535 elected officials on Capitol Hill and the president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Does it make sense to have a five-week gap in that process within a month of the deadline?

No, it doesn’t, and McConnell seems to sense the urgency and the necessity of in-person negotiations at this juncture. Perhaps that will be enough to break the logjam, but the last six months of futility after seven years of insisting that Republicans could unwind ObamaCare if given the chance does not build a lot of confidence that a two-week extension of work will suffice. Perhaps it would be best to cancel it altogether and commit to a full schedule of work for an ambitious agenda of reform.