The current session of Congress hasn’t produced much in the way of meaningful legislation being passed, though I’m sure that will come as a shock to many of you. (Not.) But they still have some important items on their to-do list to check off before heading home. One of the biggest is the usual stopgap spending bill to keep the government in operation until next year. There have been rumors swirling of a deal being in the works to make that happen for several weeks now, so we might at least avoid a shutdown on the eve of the election. But will they manage to do anything else? Reports from The Hill indicate that hopes are fading and some of the Senate Republicans are itching to get back home and out on the campaign trail. Would Cocaine Mitch really just send everyone home without pushing any other pending legislation over the finish line?
Senate Republican leaders are hoping to let their colleagues hit the campaign trail at the end of next week, acknowledging the slim chances of passing significant legislation other than a government funding stopgap before Election Day.
Republican senators say negotiations between the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are not likely to produce a COVID-19 deal before the election, and their vulnerable colleagues are eager to get back home to campaign. However, Pelosi emphasized this week that the House is committed to getting a coronavirus deal, is in no rush to leave the nation’s capital and has some leverage on the Senate’s plans.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the goal is to finish work on a stopgap spending measure to fund federal departments and agencies beyond Sept. 30, which would free up senators to leave town until after the election.
We’re at the point where another round of Shutdown Theater isn’t going to boost the poll numbers of either party, so it seems likely that everyone will swallow some of their demands and just come up with a bare-bones package that keeps the government open past September 30. It’s not as if the congressional approval ratings could sink much lower, but all of the members of the House and one-third of the Senate are up for election shortly and they really don’t want to have to go home and explain yet again why they can’t even manage to keep the government running.
Even if the CR goes through, however, that doesn’t address the other elephant in the room. Both the White House and Nancy Pelosi want to get a second round of COVID stimulus spending passed before the election. “Free money” is always popular, and if Pelosi can get her version of such a bill passed, the Democrats will trumpet that as a big win over the GOP. Conversely, President Trump will hit the trail claiming that he was the Art of the Deal guy who made it happen and take credit during the final days before the election. (And to be honest, he’s been sounding a lot more like Pelosi and less like McConnell over the past couple of weeks.)
For her part, Pelosi is still saying that the House needs to remain in session until a pandemic relief bill is passed. But Midnight Mitch has shown zero appetite for the Speaker’s “my way or the highway” approach to the size of the bill. The Senate GOP already approved a slimmed-down version of the relief bill that Pelosi could easily have pushed through the House to at least get something done, but Senate Democrats filibustered the bill to death at the urging of Chuck Schumer.
Everyone facing a tight election back home is eager to get out of town, but this is looking more and more like a trap for the vulnerable incumbents. They can see the value of going home to campaign in person, but if everyone coming to their town halls begins demanding to know why the federally enhanced unemployment benefits haven’t returned, what are they going to say in response? The GOP’s position seems a bit more tenable because they can simply point to the bill they already approved, throw up their hands and tell their constituents to go ask the Democrats why they wouldn’t pass it. But the answer is a lot trickier for the Democrats who are up for reelection.
Most people are pragmatic enough to understand the divided nature of Congress and would be willing to stick with the idea of half a loaf being better than none. But Pelosi has put her caucus in the position of having to say they would prefer everyone to get nothing if they can’t have everything. That’s a classic case of allowing perfect to be the enemy of the good, and it’s not a winner with the public in most cases. With that in mind, I won’t be entirely surprised if the Senate passes the continuing resolution and just calls it a day. If the House manages to agree to a compromise and somehow passes a palatable COVID relief bill, McConnell can still summon everyone back for a day or two so it can be pushed out to the President’s desk. And Trump would be thrilled to sign almost anything at this point.