WASHINGTON (AP) — House members are giving up a couple of days reconnecting with folks in their districts this week to pass a jobs bill that Democrats say is crucial to the nation's well-being.
The unusual in-and-out session was called because the Senate waited until last Thursday, after the House had already recessed for its summer break, to pass a $26 billion bill to prevent tens of thousands of teachers and an equal number of other state and local government workers from being laid off before the November election.
With the new school year just weeks away, election season fast approaching and the overall job picture still bleak, Democrats had no choice but to act quickly. Many of those whose jobs are being saved belong to teacher unions or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, two key components of the Democrats' political base whose get-out-the-vote efforts in November could determine whether they hold or lose control of Congress.
"This legislation is about creating and saving American jobs, and preventing a double-dip recession," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in announcing the special session just hours after the Senate passed the bill that the administration says could save the jobs of nearly 300,000 teachers and other public workers.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., shrugged off suggestions that Democrats were taking a gamble by ordering members back to Washington and diverting colleagues facing tough re-elections from their campaign activities.
"It's not a gamble," he said, but "it would be gambling our children's' education to have them go back to school and find no teacher in the classroom or a larger class size."
Republicans forced back to the Capitol to vote against a bill see it differently. Democrats should be staying home and listening to their constituents "instead of scampering back to Washington to push through more special interest bailouts and job-killing tax hikes," said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Republicans portrayed the special session as the Democrats' pre-election gift to their labor union allies and objected to provisions to raise taxes on some U.S.-based multinational companies as a way to partially cover the $26 billion cost of the bill.
Defining teachers and police officers as special interests while opposing closing a tax loophole for big corporations "defines the difference between our two parties," retorted Van Hollen.
The House will convene in a pro forma session Monday, meaning there will be no votes and few people around. Debate on the bill and a vote Tuesday morning should go quickly because Democrats who control the rules are not likely to permit any amendments.
The House also could take up another measure the Senate passed last week — a $600 million border security bill with money for more agents and unmanned surveillance drones.
"We would obviously support the House concurring in the Senate package and doing so as quickly as possible," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters in a telephone news conference the day after the Senate passed the bill.
Lawmakers weren't the only ones caught off guard by the sudden decision to reconvene the House. The House chamber is currently under construction as workers replace the 30-year-old voting boards with new displays that will be more energy-efficient and easier to read. Temporary voting boards will be set up on the House floor so members can confirm their votes.
While unusual, it's hardly unprecedented for the House to break from vacations to take care of business the party in charge considers pressing.
In December 2008 the House returned to approve the auto industry rescue plan. In August 2005 lawmakers were called back to provide emergency relief for Katrina victims. Earlier that year, lawmakers gave up the last day of their spring break to vote on restoring a feeding tube to brain-damaged Terry Schiavo.