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With Organizing Deal Close, Senate May Start Work on Omnibus Spending Bill Wednesday

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said Wednesday morning that the chamber’s leaders are finally very close to sealing a deal on an organizing resolution.

“We could reach an agreement today,” Daschle said at a press briefing. Once an agreement is in place, he said, the chamber could turn to outstanding appropriations bills left over from the 107th Congress as soon as Wednesday.

While he did not offer any details, Daschle said Democrats’ insistence that committee funding be split 51 percent to 49 percent has not changed. Republicans want to keep two-thirds for themselves, which is the majority party’s prerogative under Senate rules.

But Daschle said that committee funding for the narrowly split chamber, which has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, should mirror the more equitable deal forged in the last Congress. “What was good enough for the 107th Congress is good enough for the 108th,” Daschle said.

Despite losing the majority in the midterm elections, Democrats nominally control Senate committees until the chamber passes an organizing resolution formally installing Republican chairmen.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) reiterated the Tennessean’s statement Tuesday night that a deal is imminent. Earlier Tuesday, Frist introduced an organizing resolution that simply assigns Members to committees without considering the funding matter. Later in the day he filed a cloture motion, which limits debate on the resolution.

Democrats want an agreement on funding and space allocation included in the resolution. Since funding for the committees does not expire until the end of February, however, Republicans would prefer to move ahead on chairmanships now and deal with funding later.

Frist had threatened to keep lawmakers in session during next week’s scheduled Martin Luther King Jr. recess unless they pass an organizing resolution. Even if a deal is struck Wednesday, it is possible Senators will be in session come Tuesday as they have not yet taken up an omnibus appropriations package that includes last year’s remaining 11 appropriations bills.

Daschle said the Senate should be able to start work on the spending package today or tomorrow.

While both parties want to dispense with the measure quickly, Daschle said Democrats would offer amendments on matters they consider a priority, including one to boost funding for “hometown” security — money for state and local governments to spend on security efforts.

They will also try to bolster funding for President Bush’s Leave No Child Behind education initiative and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, as well as restore funding for Amtrak. Finally Democrats want more money for a program that helps low-income families pay their energy bills and funding for agriculture disaster assistance.

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