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Conferees Continue Negotiations on Spending Bill While Senate Prepares for Possible Estrada Filibuster

Congress should finally dispense with last year’s appropriations bills this week while also tweaking the nation’s welfare program and giving consumers more protection from telemarketing.

In addition, the Senate will likely vote on the contentious nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

First up is the ongoing spending debate. Conferees trying to split the difference between the House and Senate fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bills were hoping to reach final agreement before Monday night’s public meeting, but it was unclear if they would succeed.

The conference committee worked over the weekend and planned to work Monday and Tuesday, if necessary, in order to have a report on the House floor by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.

Lawmakers face an additional deadline in the form of a threat from Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The Appropriations chairman has said he would give up on the omnibus in favor of a continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year if Congress cannot finish the bill by Friday, the last day before the weeklong Presidents’ Day recess.

The White House wants the package — which includes the 11 outstanding appropriations bills — to come in under $385.9 billion. The Senate package costs $391 billion if the $3.9 billion requested by the administration for the intelligence community spending is included.

The House did not craft a package.

While working through the spending bill, Senate Republican leaders hope to bring Estrada’s nomination to a floor vote Wednesday or Thursday.

As Democrats denounced Estrada’s possible appointment Monday, it was unclear if they had sufficient support to block his confirmation with a filibuster. Even so, GOP leaders were trying to reach an agreement with them Monday to forestall the possibility.

Also, the Senate was scheduled to vote late Monday afternoon on a bill that would make the creation and dissemination of “virtual” child pornography illegal.

In the House, a bill that would reauthorize the landmark 1996 overhaul of the welfare program is slated for debate Thursday.

The legislation would bump up the welfare workweek by 10 hours to 40. Welfare recipients would have to spend at least 24 hours in direct work while being allowed to spend up to 16 hours in state-approved activities such as job training, schooling or substance-abuse treatment.

And a new program would funnel $300 million a year into marriage-promotion programs.

The welfare system, which provides block grants to states and requires welfare recipients to work, expired Sept. 30, 2002. It has been extended through the continuing resolutions that have kept the government functioning while Congress continues to work through the spending bills, which were due Oct. 1.

A similar bill passed the House last year but was not taken up in the Senate.

Republicans see it as one of their greatest achievements since taking control of the House in 1994, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will praise its success in a speech on the House floor Tuesday, his spokesman said.

Finally, the House is scheduled to pass a bill authorizing the Federal Trade Commission’s national “do not call” registry Wednesday.

The plan forbids companies from placing telephone solicitations to households that have registered with the FTC.

The bill would authorize the commission to collect fees for the program’s implementation and enforcement.

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