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House May Work Without Senate

House Republican leaders will not commit to following the Senate’s lead in taking the week of Oct. 6 off and are suggesting that the chamber may be in session until at least Oct. 31.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said Wednesday that if the $87 billion supplemental spending bill is ready for the House floor the week of Oct. 6, the leadership may keep the chamber in session that week to finish up the emergency request.

A House GOP leadership aide said DeLay and others want to leave themselves some flexibility and do not want to be locked into a recess in early October before knowing how much work remains undone.

A senior Senate GOP aide said that at a bicameral leadership meeting Tuesday night, House leaders said they did not plan to take up the supplemental before the week of Oct. 6 and that they wanted to dispense with it that week.

DeLay said a continuing resolution lasting through Oct. 31 could be introduced next week but stressed that its end date was not yet decided. Nonetheless, he intimated that talk of such a long CR does not bode well for House Members who wanted to take the first full week of October off along with Senators.

The Majority Leader said that a continuing resolution lasting through Oct. 31 sends “a very real signal to our Members that we’ll be in session until at least Oct. 31.”

DeLay said the House is likely to work a Tuesday through Thursday schedule in the coming weeks, but he warned that the workdays could increase as adjournment nears.

While DeLay did not specifically mention the conference committees on Medicare prescription drug coverage and energy reform, those are two GOP priorities that leaders in both chambers want to see passed before Congress adjourns for the year.

DeLay also stressed that it could take “two to three to four weeks” for the House to carefully review the Iraq supplemental. “Members really want to take a look at this,” he said.

That may have been an understatement as Democrats held one press conference after another on Wednesday calling on their colleagues to closely scrutinize every aspect of President Bush’s request.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) said he would hold full committee-level hearings on the request as soon as possible.

Holding hearings at the full committee level instead of the subcommittee level signals the import of the hearings and helps Young “get the witnesses I want,” he said.

He added that it also helps expedite the process because as soon as the hearings conclude, he can move the bill to markup.

While there is much work left to be done, House Members left town Wednesday night in advance of Hurricane Isabel’s expected heavy winds and showers today.

While Senate leaders had originally vowed to stick it out, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) last night canceled votes for the rest of the week. The leader said he would until this morning to make the final determination on whether to dismiss lawmakers altogether.

Even if he does decide to keep the chamber in session, however, most Senators seemed likely to follow the lead of their House colleagues and leave town Wednesday night so that they do not get stuck in Washington in the event of possible airport closures.

“I’m sure a number of Senators will be out of town [Thursday],” a Senate GOP leadership aide said.

The Senate wrapped up the Energy and water appropriations bill Tuesday night but put off wrapping up the Interior spending bill until next week.

A Senate leadership aide said Frist hopes to complete Interior early next week, maybe by Tuesday, and then move to VA-HUD or possibly the District of Columbia spending bill.

In the meantime, the House stands ready to take up conference reports. The Homeland Security and legislative branch spending bills were reported out of conference Wednesday. DeLay said the military construction appropriations conference report should be ready for consideration next week.

With the Senate having only approved five of its spending bills, talk about a CR has begun. Young said he would like to see a CR that extends through Halloween.

While Young said he and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) both want to clear all 13 spending bills individually, talk of an omnibus to clear up the final appropriations bills has also started.

Stevens said the Senate would continue plowing through spending bills, but he told reporters that “if anybody wants to go home before Christmas, there’ll probably have to be an omnibus.”

As to whether the Senate will sign off on a month-long continuing resolution, Frist spokesman Nick Smith said the leader wants his chamber to pass as many bills as it can before he decides.

“We’ll work toward passing as many appropriations bills as we can working toward the Oct. 3 deadline and at that time will decide how to proceed,” he said.

For now, though, the weather is the top concern on the minds of lawmakers and Hill staffers.

The Homeland Security Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives gave a report to staffers Wednesday on Hurricane Isabel’s projected impact on Washington, D.C.

Heavy rains of up to 10 inches and afternoon winds reaching 30 miles per hour are expected in the D.C. area today as Isabel moves through the Mid-Atlantic. By nightfall, winds may reach 50 miles per hour with gusts as high as 70 mph. Both the Metro bus and rail have reported they will cease operation at 11 a.m. today.

With southern Pennsylvania and Delaware suffering from unrelated flooding, wet grounds and extensive rain to the north make flooding in D.C. a possibility, FEMA reps said. They also reported that storms in the area are expected to subside by Friday.

FEMA officials informed staffers that emergency response teams have been standing by in at-risk states since last week. Cots, generators, bottled water and other supplies have been positioned in these areas for needy victims.

Federal representatives also told the packed room a toll-free number will be enacted in any state declared a disaster area as early as Friday. This hotline will provide a directory for those seeking advice, from medical needs to insurance inquiries.

Jessica L. Brady contributed to this report.

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