(Adds Democrats pushing healthcare agenda)
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - U.S Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he was cancelling most of the Senate’s August recess to give lawmakers time to pass spending bills before a Sept. 30 deadline and to confirm more of President Donald Trump’s appointees.
“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled,” Republican McConnell said in a statement.
Democrats, the minority party in the Senate, countered that they intended to use the extra time to push for a debate and votes on healthcare, an issue they have been touting in campaigning for congressional elections in November. But McConnell, not Democrats, sets the Senate agenda.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he would push for votes on expanding access to Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly; lowering drug costs and health insurance premiums; increasing tax credits for health insurance; and making sure people with pre-existing health conditions do not get priced out of insurance.
Schumer also challenged Republican President Trump to stay in Washington “working right alongside us” during the month of August.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Democratic lawmakers were skeptical that McConnell really wanted more time to deal with nominations and appropriations, suspecting that the move had more to do with keeping them off the campaign trail.
Several Democratic incumbents are locked in tough campaigns for re-election. Of the Senate seats on the ballot this election cycle, 26 are held by Democrats and the independents who caucus with them, while just nine are held by Republicans.
McConnell said that the Senate will be in recess during the first week of August, returning for the rest of the month.
Congress’ August recess normally is closely guarded as a time for lawmakers to take foreign “fact-finding” trips, campaign for re-election and ramp up campaign fundraising operations.
The House of Representatives is still scheduled to be away the entire month of August.
Congress rarely finishes work by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, on the dozen individual appropriations bills needed to keep the federal government fully operating. Instead, a series of stopgap spending bills often are enacted until lawmakers reach a deal on all the spending measures. (Reporting by Colette Luke and Susan Cornwell; editing by Bernadette Baum and Rosalba O’Brien)