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GOP Senators to Talk Priorities With Bush

President Bush will host Senate Republicans at the White House next week to talk strategy on a number of his policy priorities as the window of opportunity to approve non-appropriations bills in this session begins to close.

Congress must soon turn its full attention toward passing spending bills to fund the federal government in 2006, an arduous process that in recent years has not been completed by the Oct. 1 deadline.

With partisanship at an all-time high on Capitol Hill and Democrats insisting on seeking additional funding for various domestic programs, it is highly unlikely Congress will break the recent trend of completing its appropriation work by the first day of the new fiscal year.

The meeting comes as the centerpiece of Bush’s domestic agenda, retooling the Social Security system, is being met with skepticism by the public as well as some members of his own party (see story, page1). The president is also waiting for Congress to deliver on legislation to overhaul the nation’s energy policy as well as approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement, among several other priorities.

“We probably will be discussing a broad range of issues,” said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman. “He has an ongoing dialogue with the Members and meets with them all the time.”

The meeting had been in the works for several months and is not being convened by Bush in response to a crisis, said several GOP Congressional aides familiar with its planning.

“It is not a strategically coordinated meeting,” said a Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It was time for a family dinner.”

The lunch is scheduled for June 21 and will serve as the Senate Republicans’ weekly policy meeting. Vice President Cheney regularly attends these gatherings in the Capitol as do former Senators. The meeting at the White House, though, will be for current Senators only.

“No guests or former Senators will be allowed to attend the lunch and no outside documents will be distributed,” GOP Senators were instructed in a memo sent to their offices last week.

Duffy noted that this will be the first time a president has hosted a policy lunch since the late President Ronald Reagan.

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