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Daschle Predicts a Christmastime Adjournment

Ratcheting up his claim that Republicans have mishandled the Congressional calendar, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) predicted Tuesday that adjournment is likely to come closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving.

“Well, I think that it’s likely now, because of the extraordinary mismanagement of the schedule this week, that we will be in after Thanksgiving,” Daschle said Tuesday. “I can’t imagine that we can complete our work prior to Thanksgiving.”

Daschle added, “So, if I had to predict, I would say we’re going to be in likely now closer to Christmas than to Thanksgiving.”

His sentiment was echoed by at least one rank-and-file Republican Senator.

Exiting the GOP luncheon Tuesday, Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) said that Republicans had reached a general sentiment that they have to finish work by Nov. 21 or Nov. 22 — or else all momentum for adjournment will dissipate and both sides will keep wrangling throughout December.

“The principal is, if we don’t get out on the 21st, we’re here ’til Christmas,” Coleman said.

Despite the impasses on energy and Medicare legislation and the increasing likelihood that the Senate will not finish many, if any, appropriations bills this week, House and Senate GOP leaders are still shooting for a Nov. 21 adjournment.

“It’s a heavy lift, but it’s possible,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

“We’re very close on everything we need to get done,” he said. “It will be a busy week, but we can get it done.”

House GOP leaders last week warned their Members that if they had a break this week — all votes for the week ended up being canceled on Monday — they should prepare to work nonstop between Nov. 17 and adjournment, including weekends.

Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said, “It’s still our goal to be out by Nov. 21, and [Frist] still thinks that we’re on track.”

While Republicans contend deals on energy and adding a prescription drug component to Medicare are imminent, Daschle was much more skeptical.

“I would say that the passage of a Medicare conference report today is less than 50/50,” he said, adding that he would give the same odds for an energy deal.

“To my knowledge, there is no discussion because there is no presence on the part of Republican leadership in the House,” he said, echoing House Democrats who have chastised their GOP counterparts for giving Members the week off and leaving town.

“Well, I noted that I thought the odds on the Medicare prescription drug benefit were far less than 50-50,” Daschle added. “I would say that’s exactly what the odds are with the energy bill as well. It’s late in the year. There isn’t a consensus and, regrettably, there doesn’t seem to be much progress this week toward getting one.”

As for wrapping up appropriations, Daschle said Frist was misguided in his decision to surrender 30 hours of floor debate to judges rather than spending bills.

“Well, I believe that there is a lot to be said for the management of the Senate today on the floor,” he said. “We don’t often times know what the schedule will be. We’re spending 30 hours debating judges when we ought to be passing appropriations bills. This has been perhaps one of the most mismanaged appropriations processes that I’ve seen in a long time.”

Senate Democrats have been blasting Frist for mishandling the floor, which led Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to launch a nearly nine-hour filibuster on Monday as a prelude to tonight’s fireworks on judges.

“The Senate leadership seems more worried about four people who are employed instead of the millions of unemployed,” Reid said about GOP plans to spend 30 hours this week talking about President Bush’s stalled judicial nominees. “We should get busy on the budget and other issues that matter to the American people — jobs, prescription drugs, health care, education and the environment.”

Call, however, said the judicial debate is an urgent priority.

“Senator Frist feels it’s an important constitutional issue,” said Call said. “The Senate [has a] responsibility of advise and consent on these nominees and this is a debate the Senate should have.”

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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