With time trickling away for the Senate to do something constructive before legislators depart for August break, a consequentially timed outbreak of COVID-19 infections has struck.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) led the sick wave on July 10 and was quarantined for a week before returning to the upper chamber. He was followed by Democrat Sens. Tina Smith (Minn.) and Tom Carper (Del.), both of whom are expected to be back at work by tomorrow.
But just today, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) both tested positive for the dread disease and have gone into quarantine.
At the same time, 82-year-old Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is still recuperating from his second surgery in less than a month, in a quest to repair the hip he broke when he fell in his Virginia home.
Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate does not have any provision for allowing lawmakers to “phone it in” and vote remotely or by proxy. With their razor-thin majority, Democrats can’t afford to be without swing-vote Republicans — and they need every single Democrat — in order to pass high-profile legislation before leaving for their home states on August 8. The timing is crucial because many of them need to campaign for reelection, which will be hard to do if they turn up empty-handed before their constituents. New York Magazine quotes Punchbowl News:
With control of both chambers up for grabs and lawmakers anxious to be home, floor time is getting very tight. This is driving the legislative agenda, especially in the Senate, where everything takes much longer than expected. Passing a reconciliation package that allows Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug pricing and extends Obamacare subsidies is by far the most critical priority, but there are other key issues still outstanding with just two weeks to go — CHIPS-Plus, same-sex marriage, NATO, the assault weapons ban, police funding, and the PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act, a high-profile bill for veterans, among others.
That reconciliation package would need to be wrapped up by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. CNBC describes it as:
…a slimmed-down version of Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill, which would require Manchin’s in-person vote in order to garner 50 votes from Democrats and trigger a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
That bill would maintain the currently increased health insurance subsidies for two years, and it would allow Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers on the cost of some prescription drugs.
If that doesn’t go through — and it won’t without all Democrat hands on deck — voters will get hit with a staggering increase in their healthcare premiums, just in time for midterm voting. That’s not a good look for the party that has controlled the White House and Congress since January 2021.
Democrats are equally anxious to rush through bills that would enforce their pet social issues, same-sex marriage and abortion. But the Senate is designed to slow down legislation that has been hastily concocted in the heat of a moment — and with good reason. For example, tinkering with marriage on the federal level needs to be carefully considered lest Congress create unintended consequences.
Democrats are also frantic because they’re widely expected to lose control of the House and probably the Senate in the midterm elections. If they don’t cram through their agenda in short order, the opportunity may be lost to them for a long, long, long time.
Needless to say, they’re sweating this slow-moving wave of COVID infections.