President Obama’s apparent determination to blame Congress for the lack of progress on a deal to raise the debt ceiling may force the Senate to forgo a scheduled recess next week. “If by the end of this week, we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members of Congress need to understand, we are going to, you know, start having to cancel things and stay here until we get it done,” the president told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.
How dare Congress look to the White House for leadership, Obama suggested. “I’ve been here,” he said. “They’re in one week, they’re out one week, and they’re saying ‘Obama’s got to step in.’” (Which he did do ultimately, albeit just last week, and only after Republicans walked out on negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden.)
If peer pressure from the president does not suffice, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has once again threatened to block the Senate from adjourning for recess. “Until we work on the budget, on the debt limit, on the people’s business we don’t have a right to go home and adjourn,” said Sessions from the Senate floor. “To do so would be to fail the public once again.”
Sessions posed a similar challenge to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) prior to the Memorial Day break, vowing to force members to cast an uncomfortable vote to go on recess. Reid, however, circumvented the challenge by keeping the Senate in pro forma sessions during the break. He could always repeat this course of action, but might think twice now that President Obama has basically deferred all responsibility to Congress when it comes to negotiating a deal on the debt ceiling.
And can you really blame the president for wanting Congress to stick around? As Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.) has said, Obama has much better things to do with his time than negotiate a solution to the debt crisis. Like, for example, go on vacation.
UPDATE: Freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who on Tuesday threatened to block unanimous consent agreements until Democrats initiated an open debate on a budget resolution in the Senate, announced Wednesday that he would object to any motion to adjourn the Senate for recess.
Flanked by ten of his colleagues — including freshman Sens. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), and Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) — Johnson reiterated his frustration with the fact that, nearly six months after he arrived in Washington, the Senate has yet to significantly address the federal debt crisis. Specifically, the president and Democratic leaders in the Senate have failed to provide any real leadership on the issue. As result, he didn’t think a July 4th recess was in order. “Our country is going bankrupt,” he said. “We shouldn’t be going home on a holiday.”
“I think America is in grave danger,” said Paul. “We’ve not had one minute of one hearing devoted to the debt ceiling. We are not doing what the American people want. They want us to tackle these problems head on, and we lack leadership.”
Rubio was particularly animated, saying his was “stunned” at the lack of urgency in Washington to address the debt crisis. “I’m deeply disappointed,” he said. “I expected that after the elections we would come up here and begin to address these issues quickly. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that six months would go by and we would not deal with these issues at all.”
“We don’t have the luxury of time,” he added. “I assure you, Republicans and Democrats alike, history will not look kindly on any of us if this issue is not addressed, and we leave this for the next generation unresolved.”
Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) said Republicans are not only demanding that the Senate remain in session over the break, but that actual work gets done, and in a public setting — no more secret groups and commissions. “Let’s not be here just to be here,” he said. “Let’s be on the floor debating in a constructive way the biggest threat that our country faces.”
Senator Lee summed up Obama’s failure to lead with a pair of numbers: 76 (the number of golf rounds the president has played) and 0 (the number of votes his budget received in the Senate).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is going to be hard pressed to force a recess at this point. This challenge from Republicans probably increases the pressure slightly but only in the sense that it will raise public awareness of the issue. The real pressure will come from President Obama, who seemed pretty adamant that Congress not go home next week. Reid takes to the Senate floor shortly, so stay tuned.