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'Pressure is building' to scrap Congress' summer break

One Senate Democrat recently raised the prospect of scrapping the Senate's summer break. Suddenly, he has some company.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) recently raised the prospect of scrapping the Senate's summer break in order to, among other things, finish work on infrastructure. Soon after, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told a Capitol Hill reporter, "Tell Senator Markey to get a life."

That was an unfortunate response, especially given that Durbin, just days earlier, complained to the Washington Post about the evaporating legislative calendar and all the priorities his party is eager to tackle.

But as The Hill reported yesterday, Markey isn't the only one publicly raising the prospect of doing more work over the summer, not less.

Democratic senators are starting to say the August recess, or at least part of it, should be in peril as the party falls further behind on its legislative agenda.... A growing number of progressives say Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) needs to think about revising the schedule, arguing the "historic" opportunity to pass a big, bold infrastructure bill is fast disappearing.

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."

The same report quoted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) saying 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.

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."

To be sure, a handful of senators does not a groundswell make, but The Hill added, "Democratic leaders acknowledge pressure is building" to do something about the shrinking calendar.

A Washington Post analysis noted yesterday that such chatter has been relatively common in recent years, and the "posturing" doesn't usually amount to much. It's a fair point.

But occasionally, the perennial conversation matters. As we discussed last week, 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?

Circling back to our earlier coverage, Congress' summer break is optional. Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein recently made a compelling case that Democratic leaders remain at work through much of August, and it remains a worthwhile idea -- not just because the majority party has an ambitious to-do list, but also because it's quickly running out of calendar.

Senate Democrats theoretically have a majority for 24 months -- a majority that could evaporate in response to an unexpected resignation or health crisis. Given that Mitch McConnell blocked Dems from taking control for all of January, that lowers the total to 23 months. If members head home this August and next, that's 21 months. Given that June is nearly done, we can subtract another five months from the calendar.

It's against this backdrop that lawmakers are taking two weeks off for the July 4th holiday, and still planning to be gone in August -- despite the incredibly difficult task ahead of passing two infrastructure bills, among many other goals.

Time is a precious resource that cannot be replaced. If "pressure is building" among Senate Democrats, their leaders would be wise to acknowledge the significance of the circumstances.