The Senate is expected to remain in pro forma session next week, instead of formally adjourning for the July 4th recess, senior aides in both parties said -- a step that rules out any recess appointments during the break.
“You can expect the July recess to look similar to the Memorial Day recess,” a Democratic leadership aide said.
The Senate did not officially adjourn for that break, with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., gaveling the chamber into and out of session when necessary. The House must approve any Senate recess of more than three days. That is normally a noncontroversial step. But Republicans in both chambers have clamored for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to refuse to okay a Senate exit in order to block President Obama from making recess appointments -- particularly Elizabeth Warren as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Wary of such an appointment, Republicans are threatening to mount multiple obstacles to adjournment, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appears to have decided to avoid a partisan procedural fight over the issue.
The pro forma sessions have no practical effect other than blocking recess appointments, which Obama did not appear poised to make anyway.
Senators will still leave town with their recess schedules intact. But the failure to adjourn might signal a coming fight over the longer August recess. And it underscores the dysfunction of a divided Congress. The House and Senate have schedules that keep them out of town on different weeks for much of the summer, complicating debt ceiling talks and the small amount of business not already ruled out by the fact that the two bodies agree on little legislation.
As he did before Memorial Day, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is set to announce on Tuesday that he will object to a request by Reid to adjourn for the July 4th recess. Sessions said he wanted the Senate to continue working on deficit reduction. The adjournment resolution is typically approved by unanimous consent. By objecting, Sessions would force a vote on adjourning. Democrats have the votes to force the measure through, but the vote would be cast by the GOP as a move to adjourn rather than address pressing business. Reid has shown no appetite for such a vote.
The Democratic leadership aide said the Senate will not adjourn because the House, which is not in session, cannot approve the adjournment resolution. The aide would not say, however, if Reid considered an adjournment vote while the House was in session or if Boehner has indicated whether or not he would attempt to keep the Senate in session.
A Boehner spokesman declined to comment.
Two GOP aides said that if the Senate voted to adjourn, they could do so, with the House only able to consider the measure retroactively when they return. The Constitution gives the president the power to adjourn either chamber in the case of disagreement between them, but Democrats seem disinclined to test that power.
This article appears in the June 28, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.