David Perdue tweaks leaders on Senate scheduling

When David Perdue first arrived to the U.S. Senate on a wave of voter distaste for people who have held office before, he was assigned a newbie’s duty of presiding over the Senate on Fridays.

After a steady start, amid promises from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of a more strenuous work schedule, the Georgia Republican’s Friday shifts have become infrequent. Thursday afternoon departures have resumed their position as the norm.

Then last week came the release of the Senate's expected 2016 schedule. It includes a seven-week August recess – the longest in two decades – and an early October departure ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Perdue's first reaction, captured by Politico: "It's unbelievable. It's awful. I don't even know how to respond."

He later elaborated for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“People back home see (the country’s debt problem), and they want to get these things solved – Social Security and Medicare,” Perdue said. “You don’t do that by running around the state politicking, which is what a lot of people are going to be doing next year.”

That campaigning would trump legislating is no surprise to veterans. But Perdue, still playing out his rookie season, continues to cling to his campaign trail mantra.

"The issue is that I'm the proverbial outsider here," Perdue said by phone, so we were unable to confirm if he was wearing a jean jacket.

“I didn’t join the Senate country club, if there is such a thing. I came here to get a job done. The people of Georgia are upset. That’s why I got elected.”

Perdue’s team recently celebrated a year since that election. They have finally moved into permanent offices in the Russell Senate Office Building (named for Georgia’s Richard Russell). The reception area features a national debt clock – a reminder to all who enter of his top priority.

Within the Republican caucus, he's sought something of a middle ground between the Ted Cruz crowd and close leadership allies. Perdue has not been a constant irritant, but he has voted against some key GOP priorities, such as the permanent Medicare physician payment "doc fix," and he has spoken his mind about fiscal concerns. Witness his implicit condemnation of McConnell for his "surrender" to President Barack Obama on the budget and debt ceiling.

“I’m trying to do it within the system,” Perdue said. “I’ve been a very good participant in the committees. I’m not marginalizing my impact here.”

He’s quick to add that the Senate is getting some things done.

“The work ethic here is unbelievable,” Perdue said. “Here’s the problem – the Senate is focused on activities and not results.”

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart pointed to the action last week, in which the Senate passed two major bills before skipping town for Veterans Day, as a harbinger of 2016.

“The Leader has shown that with the right motivation, we can get things done while still providing members time with their constituents,” Stewart said in an email.

But many Senate GOP priorities — such as advancing the Keystone pipeline or reversing Obama administration regulations — are stymied by filibustering Democrats or Obama’s veto pen. Hence the counterargument to Perdue: Politicking is exactly what Republicans should be doing next year, in order to take back the White House and hold their Senate majority.

Perdue, who does not have to worry about his own re-election until 2020, appreciates this. Next year’s schedule, in fact, is not unlike most election years – and the extra long summer break is due to the party conventions being moved up to July.

His stance is an attempt to walk the line between channeling voters’ angst against his institution and being an effective member of it.

“The way I feel about it is this: People send us up here to get results,” Perdue said. “If we have results, that does a lot more than a lot of politicking.”

A Veterans Day jab

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, in the midst of a Veterans Day media blitz, took a shot at the chief Democratic contender for the presidency.

Denis O'Hayer at WABE-90.1 asked the Georgia Republican about Hillary Clinton's vow to fight "privatization" of the VA.

“That really illustrates that Mrs. Clinton does not really know what she’s talking about, because what we did with the veterans choice bill last August is give private options to veterans of their choice to go to the private sector if the VA couldn’t meet their health care needs,” Isakson replied.

“And we’ve actually expanded that with the help of Veterans Administration staff and Secretary (Bob) McDonald to where we had 7.5 million more appointments billed in the first nine months of this year than the first nine months of last year, principally because they had the access to private sector providers.

“Nobody’s trying to privatize the VA. What we’re trying to do is maximize the access veterans have to health care, and that means utilizing the private sector as well.”

Vote of the week

The U.S. Senate voted, 91-3, Tuesday to pass a military policy bill that includes a provision blocking President Barack Obama from transferring Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the U.S.

Yes – Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and David Perdue, R-Ga.