WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday he wants his chamber to vote on pivotal budget and infrastructure legislation before lawmakers break for their August recess, and warned he may delay that summer break to allow more time for work on President Joe Biden's top domestic goals.
In a letter to his colleagues, Schumer, D-N.Y., also said Democrats “stand ready to expeditiously fill any potential vacancies on the Supreme Court should they arise,” a clear reference to the possibility that liberal-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, might retire. He also wrote that the Senate might vote again on Democratic legislation liberalizing voting procedures, which Republicans blocked last month.
Schumer's plans underscore the priority his party is giving to Biden's push to pump trillions of dollars into building roads, pipelines and other infrastructure projects, as well as bolstering health care, services for families, programs combating climate change and other initiatives.
The letter highlights the time pressure Democrats face as they try to enact those bills. Republicans are expected to vote solidly against most of Biden's domestic legislation, and Democrats will need virtual unanimity to push the measures through the closely divided Congress. Gaining that unity will take time and will only get harder as the 2022 election campaigns approach.
“Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do," Schumer wrote. “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period."
The first hurdle for Schumer and the Democrats is for Congress to approve a budget resolution. The budget would then let them push a massive spending bill through the Senate without facing a GOP filibuster.
That spending bill — a pillar of Biden's domestic agenda — would finance health care, family, climate and other programs. It would be partly paid for with tax boosts on the wealthy and corporations, as well as expected savings from allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
Republicans are expected to solidly oppose Biden's domestic spending spending bill. It would take 60 votes to end GOP delaying tactics — a virtually impossible hurdle for Democrats in the 50-50 chamber. That's why Democrats first need to approve a budget resolution.
Separately, Biden and 21 senators from both parties have also agreed to a framework for yet another measure, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. Schumer hopes the Senate will approve that bill before departing for recess.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said her chamber won't consider the bipartisan infrastructure measure until Democrats have written their separate bill for family, climate and other programs.
As if the budget, infrastructure and domestic agenda weren't enough, a potential Supreme Court vacancy could also be in the mix. Liberals have been eager for Breyer to retire so Biden and the Democrat-controlled Senate could select a replacement for a court that tilts 6-3 toward the right. Congressional Democrats have been reluctant to pressure Breyer overtly to step down, and he has given no indication that he will leave.
The Senate is currently scheduled to begin a summer recess after the week of Monday Aug. 2. Threats by congressional leaders to curtail recesses are common, but Schumer's illustrates the pressures his party faces.