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House Not as Antsy About August Recess Delay

GOP leadership position contrasts with Freedom Caucus

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said his Republican conference was discussing the schedule, including whether to alter the recess calendar. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said his Republican conference was discussing the schedule, including whether to alter the recess calendar. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

UPDATED 5:08 p.m. | House Republican leaders appear content sticking to their planned month-long August recess, but some rank-and-file members say they will push to stay in session if they don’t start ticking items off their to-do list.

House leaders remain in discussions about the schedule, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday, a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his chamber would stay in Washington for two extra weeks in August.

“We are in active conversations as a team to discuss what our schedule is going to be,” Ryan said. “But right now, we plan on hitting our mark, getting our work done and making sure that we fulfill all of our responsibilities. We’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”

It’s the “getting our work done” that remains key to the House leaving on schedule on July 28 and returning Sept. 5. Viewpoints on what legislative items should be addressed before recess vary across the conference.

The House Freedom Caucus during a press conference Wednesday called on leadership to ensure three agenda items get addressed before the House breaks: an increase in the debt limit, a finalized a health care overhaul and an agreement on principles for a tax overhaul.

“Until we get results, there should be no recess,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the hard-line conservative caucus.

If those three items are not addressed, the Freedom Caucus will consider procedural tools to ensure members will be on record voting whether the House should stay in session, Meadows said.

The Freedom Caucus took a formal position in June to support staying in session in August, which requires a vote of at least 80 percent of its estimated roughly three dozen members. (The caucus does not reveal its membership roster.)

Ten caucus members joined Meadows at the press conference Wednesday, along with Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman, who is not a group member.

“I applaud the Senate for setting the standard to stay in session,” Wittman said, imploring House leaders to follow suit.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the House Republican Conference during their weekly meeting Wednesday that if there’s work to be done — namely, if the Senate passes a health care bill — the House will be in session to process it, according to a source in the room.

“We want to stay on our timetable, but if we needed to stay later to vote on the health care bill, we would,” Rep. Tom Cole said, confirming that would be the only reason for House leaders to cut into the recess. He said leaders noted they can call members back with 72 hours’ notice to vote.

Politically, it may not look good for the House to go on recess while the Senate is working, Cole said, noting the House has completed more work and doesn’t have nominations to process.

Ryan also drew contrasts with the Senate during Wednesday’s leadership press conference.

“Obviously, we’re far ahead of the pace because the House, as you know, can move institutionally a lot faster than the Senate,” the speaker said.

McCarthy pointed out that 226 House-passed bills remained stalled in the Senate as of June 30.

While leadership does not seem keen on delaying or canceling the August recess, some in the conference continue to call for that. Perhaps the louder calls are for the House to get some items off their plate, regardless of whether that occurs in July or August.

“I came from the military. You work until the job’s done,” freshman Rep. Brian Mast said.

The Florida Republican did not have specific items he wanted to see addressed, but said the House is already making progress with the National Defense Authorization Act on the floor this week and a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure expected on the floor next week.

“I’m not afraid of staying in if that’s what we have to do, but I think we’re on a course to finish what we thought we’d do,” Rep. Fred Upton said.

The Michigan Republican declined to say whether the House should adopt a budget before the break but said they should at least start the appropriations process on the floor. 

Upton said he would also like to see a tax overhaul bill before August, “but the White House is not going to have their blueprint ready until after Labor Day, so can’t do that.”

Health care is the only issue that should keep the House in session during August, Rep. Devin Nunes said. Delaying for two weeks, like the Senate did, will only increase calls for Congress to cancel the entire recess, the California Republican said.

“I’ve never been one that thinks that being here in Washington is necessarily a good thing for the country,” Nunes said. “I think passing fewer bills and taking laws off the books is more important.”

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