Congress is readying to leave Washington as soon as this week until after the election without passing a coronavirus economic stimulus bill that members of both parties, businesses and hard-hit Americans all agree is desperately needed.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday they are trying to complete action on a House-passed government funding bill this week.
That should allow lawmakers to leave town for much of the month of October and members up for reelection to hit the campaign trail, though they are expected to return to cast their votes to confirm President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick.
The funding measure, known as a continuing resolution, is being shopped around to all Senate offices, senators and aides said, in hopes they can get unanimous consent to pass it as early as Thursday. That would mean they could avoid procedural hurdles that would otherwise force them to return to the Capitol next Wednesday, after the Jewish holiday, to approve the bill on the final day of the fiscal year.
Some fiscal conservatives, notably Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, are reluctant to give consent to pass these types of bills without being able to offer amendments and it remains unclear if they will this time.
Thune said he expects the Senate to have pro forma sessions throughout October, something that will allow leaders to call members back to vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee or if there is a deal reached on a coronavirus stimulus, which seems highly unlikely at this time.
Members of the Judiciary Committee say they expect to be back and forth between their states and Washington as they work to swiftly confirm a new justice.
On the stimulus, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart, both in terms of the overall price tag and how the money would be spent. For instance, Democrats are insisting on hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments but Republicans say that is a non-starter for them.
“The Democrats seem to be saying that we would rather have zero than have what we put up,” Thune said, referring to a scaled-down stimulus bill that Democrats recently blocked in the Senate. “At this point we’re not seeing cooperation with Democrats on a reasonable or realistic bill.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was Republicans who were being unrealistic.
“We have to meet the needs of the American people. This is not a check the box or the path of least resistance,” Pelosi argued Friday about the Democrats’ most recently proposal. “They have contempt for science and disdain for state and local government.”
The lack of action on a stimulus has rattled Wall Street, worried struggling Americans, and frustrated business owners who believe more government stimulus could have helped them stay afloat and keep workers employed.
The House is scheduled to be in session next week but that may change if the Senate completes the government funding bill this week.
This story has been updated with additional reporting Wednesday.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly contributed to this story.