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Schumer to Dems: Be ready to work during scheduled summer break

For the first time, Chuck Schumer has opened the door to keeping members on the Hill during the scheduled August break. That's an encouraging step.


Because of the 4th of July, Congress is out this week, but lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill next week with plenty of work to do. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote to his members this morning, explaining not only what the governing majority intends to do, but also when the work might get done.

It's that latter point that was of particular interest.

But first, in terms of legislative strategy, the New York Democrat sketched out a plan in which he and his members will continue to focus on infrastructure -- including both the bipartisan plan President Biden helped negotiate, and a more ambitious package that would pass through the budget reconciliation process.

Schumer's letter then added:

"Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do. 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 warning to senators that they should be ready to work during the August break is a step the majority leader has not previously taken.

In case this isn't obvious, the calendar is not on Democrats' side. As things stand, Congress will get back to work next week, but under the existing schedule, lawmakers won't be on the Hill for long: their last day of work before the summer break (a.k.a, the "August state work period") is four weeks from today.

Members aren't scheduled to return until after Labor Day, on Sept. 13.

How will the Democratic majority tackle a lengthy to-do list, including both infrastructure and voting rights, in such a short amount of time? It's a daunting challenge, which would be made easier if party leaders agreed to curtail at least part of their August break.

As regular readers know, it's an idea I've been following closely in recent weeks, though Democrats have appeared divided on the subject. When Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, recently raised the prospect of scrapping the Senate's summer break in order to, among other things, finish work on infrastructure, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told a Capitol Hill reporter, "Tell Senator Markey to get a life."

Soon after, however, Markey wasn't alone. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), for example, said he's "in favor of working right through" the August recess, adding, "My view is we need to keep at it. I've been a strong proponent of really working to get the caucus fully focused on working as fast as possible."

Around the same time, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) added that he, too, is prepared to stick around in August in the hopes of getting things done. "We need to use every day we can possibly use this year," the Oregon Democrat said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was less committal, though he added, "I'm running out of patience and the Senate is running out of time, so working for at least part of the August recess ought to be on the table."

It appears Schumer now agrees.

If his members need any additional convincing, I'd remind them that as recently as 2018, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scaled back the chamber's summer break dramatically. "We have a lot of important work to do," McConnell said at the time. He added that to make progress on legislative priorities and nominations, it was "necessary for us to be here in August and to do our work."

Don't Senate Democrats have "a lot of important work to do" in 2021, too?

It's possible that Schumer is entirely sincere about members "remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period." It's also possible that the majority leader added this line to today's letter as added motivation for senators, in effect saying, "Let's get our work done or I'll start chipping away at your summer break."

What's more, the letter suggested part of the August break is on the line, not all of it.

Regardless, the more Senate Dems realize they're running out of calendar, the better.