The House of Representatives is not expected to return before May 4, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a notice Monday afternoon.
Democratic leaders had previously eyed the week of April 20 as a tentative return date, but members have become even more reluctant to travel during the Covid-19 pandemic since they went home to their districts at the end of March.
“I have no interest in going back now. How do you get there? Train? Plane? Last time I got there, I drove for about five hours. People across the country are not going to take a chance,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York, said earlier Monday during an interview with C-SPAN.
“Unless it’s safe, I think we are better off doing our work, as we have been doing, passing bills by unanimous consent. And, hopefully, there is a bipartisan will to really focus on what we need and leave partisan politics aside.”
The scheduling change comes as congressional leaders remain far apart on a measure to ensure an emergency loan program for the nation’s small businesses will have enough funding. The White House has requested an additional $251 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was instituted as part of the historic $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
Republicans in the Senate have pushed to pass a clean funding increase in accordance with the administration’s request, while Democrats are calling for money to go to hospitals, state and local governments and food stamps. Democrats also want provisions to ensure small business owners in under-served communities have access to the loans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she hopes to pass any deal on the matter through the House by unanimous consent or voice vote, which are procedures commonly used to streamline the passage of uncontroversial measures. Passing legislation by unanimous consent or voice vote would allow most members to remain at home, but it is a fragile strategy – any one member can object to the process.
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky has already said he is willing to force many of his colleagues to return to the Capitol again to approve the small business measure, as he did for the passage of the CARES Act.
Hundreds of unhappy members from around the country had to return to DC on short notice at the end of March to block Massie’s effort to hold a full roll call vote on the massive stimulus bill. Lawmakers may see a repeat of that scenario: Massie, in an interview with Fox Business last week, said a unanimous consent or voice vote request for the small business loans measure is “not going to fly.”
He argued the House should institute a remote voting system so members can avoid travel and record their votes on legislation.
“We need to change this so that people don’t have an excuse for not being accountable,” he said.
Pelosi has repeatedly shot down the idea of remote voting, pointing to technical concerns. Democratic leaders have left the door open to other options such as proxy voting, which would require a House rules change to implement.
Hoyer said in his notice Monday that “if the House is required to take action on critical legislation related to the coronavirus response or other legislative priorities, members will be given sufficient notice to return to Washington, DC.”