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Leaders To Pick Up Pace

The House and Senate plan to ratchet up their floor schedules for the next two weeks in an effort to regain legislative momentum lost during this week’s memorials for the late President Ronald Reagan.

Next week, House GOP leaders expect to begin a stepped-up legislative pace, possibly meaning five-day work weeks for the remainder of the 108th Congress. Such a move could signal the end of what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called a “drive-by Congress” — one that votes only two days each week.

“There’ll be longer days and longer weeks … including perhaps five-day weeks,” one House Republican leadership aide said.

Next week will likely feature a packed House floor schedule that tentatively includes votes that had been postponed this week on energy legislation, an international corporate tax bill and fiscal 2005 appropriations bills.

Though House GOP leaders had hoped to spend this week working through a spate of energy bills, including re-passage of a comprehensive energy policy conference report that was filibustered in the Senate last fall, they do not want to wait another week before giving Members a chance to vote on measures designed to address the nation’s high gasoline prices, the House GOP leadership aide said.

Votes on the energy bill could come as early as Tuesday, the aide said.

The leadership also doesn’t want to let the international corporate tax bill languish for too long. The Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to mark up the measure Monday, with floor action likely to begin Thursday. The bill would repeal an illegal export subsidy for U.S. manufacturers and reduce the overall corporate tax rate.

While most House committees postponed action on legislation this week, the Appropriations Committee moved forward with markups Wednesday of the Interior and Homeland Security spending bills. Votes on one or both of those measures could come as early as next Friday.

The House Republican leadership aide said a vote on a bill to impose stricter budget enforcement rules would likely not come until the week of June 21.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate expects to have some late-night sessions in the two-week run-up to the July Fourth recess in order to finish both a Defense Department reauthorization bill and a measure to send more class-action lawsuits to federal courts.

“We’re not ruling anything out, including [working on] Saturdays as well,” said one senior Senate GOP aide.

Though the Defense bill has more than 200 amendments pending, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) may file a procedural motion to limit debate, or invoke cloture, next week to speed up consideration of the bill, which has already eaten up two weeks of the Senate’s time.

“We’re not going to rule out using procedural tools to ensure an expeditious conclusion,” said the senior Senate GOP aide.

Several extracurricular events could hinder the Senate’s successful passage of the Defense bill next week.

For example, the White House is hosting its annual Congressional barbecue Tuesday evening, while Senate Democrats have a high-dollar fundraiser to attend Wednesday night.

Even so, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) said that Senators might have to return to work for late-night votes after those events conclude.

“That’s one of the options — coming back with barbecue breath,” Allen said.

Beyond the Defense bill and class-action measure, Frist also hopes to bring up the budget resolution conference report — assuming he can convince two of four moderate GOP Senate holdouts to support the one-year budget blueprint.

In another area of concern, judicial nominations, Frist said Wednesday that the Senate will have to speed up its efforts to plow through a pre-arranged set of 25 nominees who are noncontroversial.

“We’ll have to play catch-up,” Frist said.

The deal, reached in mid-May, called for Democrats to call off their automatic filibuster blockade of all judicial nominees, allowing straight up-or-down votes on 25 nominees by June 25, in exchange for a pledge from the White House that there will be no further recess appointments of judges this year.

So far, the Senate has cleared only a half-dozen of those noncontroversial nominees, leaving Frist just two weeks to get through the remaining judges. To do it, Frist will have to start scheduling large blocs of judges for stacked votes, which could in turn eat into the amount of time for votes on other legislation.

Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) indicated that the two sides have gotten along well since the judicial pact, so a few of the votes on nominees may fall a week or so after July 4.

But there will be precious little opportunity to bring up controversial nominees — that is, those not covered by the deal and who are certain to require cloture votes and floor time for debate — before the August recess.

Frist, noting that he would have to “see what the pace is when we come back” next week, said there is no “master schedule” for bringing up the controversial nominees for cloture votes.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.