POLITICS
10/16/2017 11:37 am ET

Mississippi GOP Sen. Thad Cochran Absent From Congress Due To Illness

The GOP is short a vote at a critical time for the budget and tax reform.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) postponed his planned return to the Senate this week for health reasons, his staff announced on Monday.

The 79-year old Republican senator, who is serving his seventh term, has been grappling with a urinary tract infection that has kept him recovering at home in Mississippi for much of the past month.

“Mrs. Cochran informed me late Saturday night that Senator Cochran has developed another urinary tract infection,” Brad White, Cochran’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “After a day of monitoring his condition, and on the advice of his physicians and other healthcare professionals, Senator Cochran has postponed his return to Washington. He will continue his recuperation at home in Mississippi.”

White did not say when Cochran would return to the Senate, however, adding in the statement that the senator “has expressed his intention to return to the Senate when his health permits.”

Concern about Cochran’s health even reached the White House last month, after President Donald Trump tweeted about “one Yes vote in hospital” to explain why legislation repealing Obamacare failed to advance in the Senate. 

“Thanks for the well-wishes,” Cochran tweeted last month. “I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”

Cochran’s absence could have implications for this week’s vote on the 2018 Senate budget resolution, which Republicans are planning to use as a vehicle for their tax reform proposal.

Most GOP senators are expected to support the budget resolution. Even Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, who bucked their conference by voting against Obamacare repeal earlier this summer, have said they are likely to support it. 

It’s unclear whether Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) supports the budget resolution. The libertarian-leaning fiscal hawk has opposed such measures in the past because he said they did not cut the debt sufficiently. And he has been critical of the GOP tax reform proposal in general, arguing that the plan could raise taxes on the middle class.

Paul, who calls the president a personal friend, has spent recent days golfing with Trump at his club in Virginia. The two men have worked closely on Trump’s  executive order undermining Obamacare, which the president signed last week.

The budget resolution could advance even without Cochran and Paul, however. Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate, meaning they can afford to lose two votes. Vice President Mike Pence can exercise his constitutional power to cast a tie-breaking vote and help push the resolution over the finish line.

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