McConnell Scrubs Half the Senate’s August Recess As GOP Scrambles to Save Its Agenda

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Republican senators asked their leader to keep them in session into August, and he complied. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In an unsurprising development given the Senate’s massive backlog of work, including the health-care bill that’s holding up everything else, Mitch McConnell is canceling half of his chamber’s August recess, which will now begin on August 11 instead of July 28.

McConnell blamed Democratic slow-walking of confirmations for the delay, of course. In reality, the big problem is the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, legislation from which Democrats have been excluded entirely. Perhaps the extra two weeks could give McConnell time to make “final” adjustments to BCRA, particularly if the Congressional Budget Office’s “score” of one or more revised versions (expected to arrive early next week) comes back looking as bad as its earlier assessment of the original Senate bill. We’ll get a pretty good sense of how far McConnell has to go in herding together 50 GOP votes for the legislation when it is formally unveiled later this week.

On a parallel track, The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the current draft retains two high-end Obamacare taxes that were repealed in the House version of the bill. That will improve the optics of the legislation while freeing up some serious revenue (reportedly $230 billion over ten years) for McConnell to shower on the pet health-care-policy causes of recalcitrant senators, whether it’s money for the health-savings accounts conservative love or for offsets to the new Medicaid cuts some moderates are trying to spare their states.

The extra time will also facilitate less urgent but equally troublesome intra-GOP discussions on legislation to raise the debt limit (needed no later than October) and a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution (the vehicle to set up a tax-cut bill that won’t require any Democratic votes).

But it all comes back to health care. A monthlong recess became politically impossible when the presidential Twitter machine made this comment yesterday:

Today, Trump retweeted a Ted Cruz tweet making the same argument, and a group of six GOP senators publicly called on McConnell to keep them in session. Perhaps the fact that only two Republican senators up for reelection next year are thought to be in any trouble makes the long recess more disposable. But in any event, the upper chamber could sure use the extra time. What is unclear is whether an eternity would be long enough for the GOP to get its act together.

McConnell Scrubs Senate’s Recess in Bid to Save GOP Agenda