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Sullivan’s ‘work through recess’ group prods Senate leadership for less time off

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (at the podium) speaks at a press conference Tuesday held by Republican senators who want to urge their own party leadership to work weekends and during holiday breaks to pass a comprehensive budget and manage a backlog of Trump administration nominees. From left: Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.; Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Sullivan; and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. (Erica Martinson / ADN)

WASHINGTON — Alaska's junior senator wants less vacation this year.

Sen. Dan Sullivan and some of his Republican colleagues — mostly freshmen — are pressing their congressional leaders to add workdays and even cancel the August congressional recess to make real progress on crafting a federal budget and to confirm Trump administration nominees.

They even have a hashtag: #MakeCongressWorkAgain.

"The Senate should immediately begin work on one or several consolidated appropriations bills, so they can be openly debated and amended accordingly," 16 senators, including Sullivan, wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The group is focused on two issues: lagging nominations and decades of congressional failure to craft and pass appropriations bills. It's not likely that they'll solve the latter problem, but group members said they want to at least call out the budget process as "broken."

This isn't the first time this group of lawmakers has come together to pressure senior members of their own party on this issue. They issued the same request last year, though it came later, at the end of June.

And it got some results: McConnell agreed to extend the Senate calendar two weeks into August recess. Then Democrats agreed to confirm dozens of executive-branch nominees to federal agencies and everybody went home a week early.

There are currently 104 nominations pending on the Senate calendar and 165 still working their way through the committee process, according to information provided by Sullivan. At this point, President Donald Trump has sent fewer nominees to the Senate than presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but has also had the lowest percentage of those nominees confirmed: 60 percent — 464 of 779 nominees.

While Republicans control the Senate, Democrats are still able to slow the process of confirming the president's nominees. Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has required bipartisan "cloture" votes to advance 93 of Trump's nominees, which can mean up to 30 hours of floor time before senators can vote on a nominee.

It's especially time-consuming considering that the Senate restricts many of its workweeks to Tuesday through Thursday.

"If we need more time … then we can create more time," Sullivan said Tuesday.

Republicans can't quite point to Democrats, however, when it comes to the budget. There appears to be no great push, aside from the mostly freshmen senators at the press conference Tuesday, to pass 12 appropriations bills through committee and through the House and Senate.

If you exclude Mondays and Fridays, there are only 39 working days left in the fiscal year, proclaimed a sign onstage at the Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday.

Since 1974, Congress has passed all 12 appropriations bills only four times, said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

"However, every August, right before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Congress heads off. … They pack their bags; they leave for a monthlong vacation, and leaving behind mountains of work to get done," she said.

The budget problem "isn't a partisan issue," Sullivan said. "This is more of a generational issue. If you look at who is writing these letters, who is focused on this, it's the newest senators."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he remembered his time as a Senate page, decades ago, when it was common for lawmakers to work through the weekend. But this year, he said, they were handed a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill and given no time to read it, no chance to amend it before passage.

Sullivan, Lee and most of the other senators onstage voted against that spending bill. Sullivan said he could not vote for something he did not have sufficient time to read. He has voted against several federal funding bills since joining the Senate in 2015.

Sullivan was joined onstage by freshmen Sens. Ernst; Lee; David Perdue, R-Ga.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; and Mike Rounds; R-S.D.

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