Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) | flickr, the commons

Dems turn up heat on GOP over September agenda

Senate Democrats on Thursday rolled out a legislative wish list for Congress’ last month of work before the November elections — and said they wouldn’t hesitate to shut down the government for the first time in three years.

The threat added another twist to a long-running list of demands the minority party has been pushing for months, but with a new urgency since the current fiscal year will expire on Sept. 30. Once Congress returns from the Labor Day weekend on Tuesday, there are only three weeks left before the next recess — or possibly fewer, if both houses stick to their usual three-day work week.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan made the not-so-veiled threat during a conference call with reporters. Reid said he spoke with President Obama about the issue on Wednesday in Reno.

“The Senate is being run into the ground and unless it changes course … we’re headed straight for another government shutdown,” Reid said. “Everyone should be made aware of this today… We want the Republicans to get serious.”

“We have a few short weeks to turn it around and I hope for the sake of the country, Republicans will,” Schumer said.

The three senators said they won’t agree to a long-term funding bill that stretches into next year, preferring instead to lock in a shorter-term deal. Some Republican leaders had suggested a stopgap bill earlier this summer, arguing that Congress will have more leverage with a new president in office.

A coalition of conservative groups on Tuesday sent lawmakers a letter urging that approach, describing deals struck under shutdown threats as notoriously flawed.

“History shows that end-of-year legislative packages are routinely rushed through Congress and to the President’s desk under the threat of a government shutdown — too fast for lawmakers and the taxpayers footing the bill to determine what is in them,” the letter reads. “This prevents elected officials from examining how taxpayer dollars are being spent and making important decisions about budgeting and spending.”

More than 30 organizations signed the letter, including Americans for Tax Reform, the Christian Coalition, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Limited Government.

Reid, Schumer and Stabenow said Thursday they also want funding to help federal and state officials fight the Zika virus, a confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, legislation to prevent Americans on terror watch lists from purchasing firearms, a government reform bill and a bill to ease access to college for lower-income students.

Republicans are unlikely to agree to the complete list, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California did circulate a memo on Wednesday saying that negotiations are “continuing."

Another government shutdown would be the first since 2013. Reid, on Thursday, also made it clear he is considering tying issues such as Zika funding and the Garland nomination to any effort to continue funding the government.

For their part, Republicans have shown no sign they intend to alter the current calendar to stay in Washington beyond Oct. 10, at which point they will adjourn until Nov. 11, after the Nov. 8 election. With slim majorities of 247 seats in the House and of 54 in the Senate, speculation has swirled that Republicans could lose one or both chambers of Congress — prompting them to focus particularly closely on this year’s elections.