Just one day after President Obama chided Congress for spending so much time away from Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was canceling the July 4 recess.
Reid said that the Senate would reconvene on July 5, with the first votes likely to take place that afternoon.
“The moment is too important, the obstacle is too steep, and the time too short to waste even a moment,” said the Nevada Democrat. “I hope my Republican colleagues will put politics aside and help Democrats fulfill Congress’s responsibility to the American people.”
The decision comes after a press conference where Obama expressed exasperation over Republican claims that he was not acting as a leader in the debt-ceiling negotiations.
"I've got to say, I'm very amused when I start hearing comments about, 'Well, the president needs to show more leadership on this,'" Obama said in his first press conference since March. “I met with every single caucus for an hour to a hour and a half each. Republican senators, Democratic senators. Republican House, Democratic House. I've met with the leaders multiple times. At a certain point, they need to do their job. You know?”
One of the major barriers to real progress, Obama implied, was that the House and Senate continue to take alternate weeks off. This week the House is not in session, and until Reid made his announcement Thursday the Senate was scheduled to be in a pro forma session.
Congress, Obama said, has to “cancel things and stay here until we get it done. You know? They're in one week. They're out one week. And then they're saying, Obama’s got to step in. You need to be here. I've been here.”
Republicans found the suggestion sanctimonious.
“By that logic, the president would have to be in Washington every time the Congress is in,” said Laena Fallon, press secretary for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, in e-mailed comments. “So we’d hope he cancels all of his campaign trips and travel to allow for that.”
Fallon said that Obama’s press conference will not change the Republican stance on the debt-limit debate.
“Despite the lecture from the President today,” she said, “the House will not agree to a debt limit increase that raises taxes. This argument is not about this loophole or that loophole, it is about raising taxes in a lagging economy when we should be focused on growth and getting people back to work. As always, the House will be here if and when needed (whether that’s the week of July 18 or the week of August 8).”
This article appears in the June 30, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.