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Post-Recess Agenda Packed

Having passed separate war spending bills and budget blueprints before skipping town for recess, the Senate and House will return in one and two weeks, respectively, ready to reconcile their differences on those two major measures and deal with a host of other legislative priorities.

Because Democrats in both chambers say they are committed to staring down President Bush’s veto threat and sending him a war spending bill with some sort of timeline for withdrawal from the Iraq War, those conference negotiations likely will be the focus of both parties during and after the spring recess.

“We’ll have to resolve [the supplemental] as soon as we get back,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters shortly before the House adjourned last week.

But Democrats already were getting flak last week from Republicans about their decision to recess before reconciling the House and Senate versions of the war spending bill.

“Fifty-three days after President Bush submitted his Iraq War emergency supplemental funding proposal, Democrats in Congress have not yet sent the president a bill he can sign,” said White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino on Friday. “General Pace has made clear that there will be real consequences if we do not fund the troops by mid-April.”

Democrats have cried foul, however, noting that Bush administration officials have alternately said the Pentagon needs the money by April 15 and May 1. Additionally, the White House sent up a revision to its supplemental request March 9, shortly before Congress was set to take up the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released a Congressional Research Service report on Friday that concluded the Army could maintain its operations in Iraq and elsewhere through July without having any supplemental funds.

“This study confirms that the president is once again attempting to mislead the public and create an artificial atmosphere of anxiety,” Reid said in a statement. “After waiting months for this administration to send us its funding requests, both houses of Congress worked quickly to pass the emergency supplemental bill for our troops. Congress has acted in good faith and will send the president a conference report for his signature well ahead of the July 2007 date CRS identified.”

Meanwhile, both chambers approved a budget resolution before the break, but blowing past the April 15 statutory deadline for having a bicameral budget resolution in place — an obligation Congress routinely ignores — likely will not be a huge liability for Democrats.

“It’s more about what’s in the budget than the date,” noted one Senate GOP leadership aide about the Republicans’ drumbeat of opposition to what they say is a Democratic budget that assumes taxes will increase in 2011.

Democrats themselves appear unconcerned about getting a budget resolution by April 15, a feat they can’t accomplish because the House does not even return from their recess until the 16th.

“Final approval has been delayed because the Bush administration failed to budget for the war in the normal budget process and forced both the House and Senate to spend much of the past two weeks dealing with a supplemental appropriations bill to fund the war,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. “If not for that, it’s quite possible that we would already have completed action on the budget conference report.”

Indeed, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a Budget Committee member, said she believes it’s “possible” for the two chambers to produce a budget conference report during April.

“We’re not that far apart,” Stabenow said last week. “Both budgets reflect the same values.”

Stabenow said the main areas of contention likely would be over future tax policy. The Senate assumed a two-year fix for the alternative minimum tax, which has been increasingly ensnaring middle income taxpayers. But the House only accommodated a one-year patch for AMT.

Additionally, the Senate adopted an amendment on the floor that made room for extensions of several middle-class tax cuts, including the child tax credit and “marriage penalty” relief. The House has no such provision.

The House did not name conferees for either the supplemental war spending bill or the budget before it adjourned for a two-week recess. But the Senate named nearly every member of its Appropriations Committee as conferees on the supplemental, along with Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

House action on the 12 annual appropriations bills will begin shortly after the chamber returns April 16 for the six-week legislative stretch leading up to Memorial Day, Hoyer said. “We’re going to be doing appropriations bills in May,” he said. “All of June will be primarily, not exclusively, but primarily” for appropriations.

Members also have two additional weeks when they return to submit their earmark requests to the powerful spending panel after House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) extended the deadline to April 27 to allow lawmakers more time to make sure they are abiding by new earmark disclosure rules.

On other legislative fronts, the House is scheduled to take up the first week back a bill to give the District of Columbia a seat with full voting rights in the House. The bipartisan bill was scuttled after Republicans used parliamentary tactics that also would have repealed the long-standing D.C. ban on handguns if it were approved. Democrats are using the recess to find a new way to bring the bill to the floor that would prevent the GOP from tacking on the language.

Additionally, Hoyer said he expected the House to take up legislation on terrorism risk insurance, as well as the Defense Department authorization bill in early May.

Off the floor, the findings of a bipartisan ethics task force established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) are expected to be released in early May.

Originally tasked with a May 1 deadline, co-chair Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) has indicated that the deadline may slip into mid-May. The group was established Jan. 31 in order to examine whether an outside investigative and enforcement body is better equipped to deal with the chamber’s ethics rules than the current peer review system.

Meanwhile, Reid said last week that the Senate would take up an embryonic stem-cell research bill — and likely a GOP alternative — the week of April 9. Bush vetoed a similar measure last year and is expected to do the same this year.

Following stem cells, Reid said he would bring up a measure to allow Medicare officials to negotiate lower drug prices for beneficiaries as well as an intelligence operations authorization bill. And in the two weeks before Memorial Day, Reid said he would begin action on a sweeping immigration bill.

Other bills that could come to the Senate floor include the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization and a bill to encourage public buildings to be more energy-efficient.

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