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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is isolating after a positive coronavirus test, but he still has a full plate of major issues to tackle this month, including a reconciliation bill Democrats hope to use to advance their domestic priorities.
July is likely Democrats’ last chance to pass a bill using the reconciliation process – which lets select legislation advance with just 51 Senate votes – before the campaign season begins in earnest.
Democrats have been working on a reconciliation bill since last summer, when they initially planned legislation that could cost upwards of $3 trillion. However, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., killed that effort in December, citing inflation and the high price tag. Just one Democrat opposing a party-line bill is enough to block it in the 50-50 Senate.
Talks directly between Schumer and Manchin continued for months, and are now picking up with the August recess effectively a hard deadline for Democrats to pass anything.
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Schumer’s office says the COVID-19 diagnosis will not slow the Democrat leader’s deal making efforts.
“Anyone who knows Leader Schumer knows that even if he’s not physically in the Capitol, through virtual meetings and his trademark flip phone he will continue with his robust schedule and remain in near constant contact with his colleagues,” Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said in a statement.
A Schumer-Manchin deal would not go nearly as far as Democrats initially wanted, It would focus on prescription drug costs, the environment and taxes. However, with Democrats struggling in the polls, passing that bill would add to their legislative achievements ahead of the midterms.
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A key dynamic in the talks is likely to be a threat from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to tank a bill aimed at increasing combativeness with China if Democrats move ahead with their reconciliation package.
“Let me be perfectly clear: there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill,” McConnell tweeted last month.
“Democrats’ inflation already has families paying hundreds of extra dollars every month just to tread water,” McConnell added in a later tweet. “They turned a booming economy into a struggling economy. Now they’re considering doing even more damage and ramming through gigantic tax hikes on party lines.”
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Manchin has not addressed McConnell’s comment, and the powerful moderate is supportive of both efforts – though he is more central to the reconciliation talks.
Also on Schumer’s plate will be liberal calls for action on abortion after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, the National Defense Authorization Act, judicial confirmations and more. The long list of chores for the Senate may force Schumer to cut into the August recess – key campaign time members value even more ahead of a midterm election.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.