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House Plans Ambitious Three Weeks

While keeping watch on the Supreme Court nomination battle unfolding in the Senate, the House will spend the next three weeks racing through a series of major bills in hopes of completing this session’s most important measures before the August recess.

Even as they prepare to tackle CAFTA, the PATRIOT Act and a host of other high-profile issues, House Republicans will have to wait and see whether the Senate’s potential judicial circus will further scramble the legislative calendar and suck the air out of the party’s message blueprint.

If the Senate dissolves into partisan acrimony, then the House’s record appropriations pace and other legislative accomplishments could all be for naught. But if the nomination process goes smoothly, then the Senate would have more time to take up the bills already sent over from the House.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said House GOP Conference spokesman Sean Spicer. “If the Democrats play politics with Supreme Court nominees, that’ll slow down our agenda. If they treat the nominees with respect and courtesy … then we’re not talking about taking up that many days off the [Senate] floor schedule.”

House Republicans are aware that there is little they can do to change the calculus in the Senate, other than continuing to plow through bills.

“We’re committed to getting the work done in the House and we hope that Senate Democrats will not obstruct Supreme Court nominees so that important legislation can reach the president’s desk,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

In addition to the measures already scheduled, Republicans are also preparing to deal if necessary with energy and highway bill conference reports. And perhaps most importantly, House leaders strongly hope to finish CAFTA before the chamber breaks at the end of July.

“That’s at the top of the list of things to get done,” said a senior Republican leadership aide, adding that while CAFTA could technically wait until September, GOP leaders don’t want to let it slide that long.

“Doing it this fall is not an option right now,” said the aide.

Regardless of what happens across the Capitol, House Republicans will spend the next two weeks focusing on national and economic security issues.

This week, the House will take up several measures dealing with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Water Resources Development Act. The chamber may also take up a resolution dealing with last week’s bombing attacks in London.

On Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget’s mid-session review of the deficit will take place. Republicans hope to combine lower deficit projections with a recently announced drop in unemployment to tout their economic stewardship.

Next week’s agenda features more security-related measures, as the House will push forward with renewing provisions of the PATRIOT Act and reauthorizing the State Department and NASA. The following week — the last one before the August recess — is expected to be “health care week,” though GOP leaders have not yet finalized the legislative calendar.

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