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Hoyer Dreaming of Adjournment Next Week

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is a man holding out hope.

Despite clearly mountainous odds — a heap of legislation that includes a massive omnibus spending bill and potentially Iraq War funding as well as a separate energy package, tax bill and other potential issues — he believes Congress will recess Friday, Dec. 14.

“Clearly we are in the last two weeks of the Congress,” Hoyer said at his weekly press conference Wednesday. “I say that with a smile because there are some of you who do not believe that.”

“There are some of my own Members who do not believe it,” Hoyer continued. “Maybe it’s most of my Members don’t believe it. But [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and I believe it. We may be deluding ourselves but it is our intention to try to conclude this session of Congress by the 14th of this year.”

Although Hoyer said he’s discussed the recess date with his Democratic counterparts in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), it wasn’t exactly evident Wednesday.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Reid — who is notably fond of threatening to hold the Senate overnight and into weekends — alluded to the possibility of a Christmas-week session.

“We would like to finish this business of this body by two weeks from Friday. That’s our goal. I hope we can do that,” Reid said. “I hope that we don’t have to work — we’re not going to work on Christmas — but I hope we don’t have to work on Christmas week. It’s possible we might have to do that.”

In fact, even Hoyer had to admit that it’s not merely that his colleagues are in disbelief over his prediction, they actually think he’s “delusional on that issue.”

“But my belief is that we can do that,” Hoyer said. “And I’m hopeful that we will do it. … Obviously we have a lot to do before we get there.”

In a separate interview, Hoyer admitted: “Wanting to and doing it at the end of the session are sometimes two different things.”

Among the numerous tasks that remain before the House can adjourn is completion of the fiscal 2008 appropriations measures, which Hoyer acknowledged Wednesday will be rolled into a massive omnibus appropriations measure that could contain additional funding for the Iraq War.

The threat of a veto looms over the package as well, as President Bush has threatened to veto most of the expected spending bills.

But Hoyer vowed that the House will not enact a long-term continuing resolution if Congress fails to complete the appropriations process before it adjourns for the year.

“Neither the Speaker nor I are interested in a CR,” Hoyer said. “There may have to be a short-term CR if we haven’t completed our business, which has happened in the past. But there is no interest in a long-term CR on our side of the aisle.”

In addition, the House is still working to complete energy legislation, which faced delays Wednesday, in part as leadership sought to secure votes for the measure (See story, p. 1), but is expected on the floor today.

There is also legislation to correct the alternative minimum tax, which Congress must complete before the start of the tax season in January.

House leaders also continue to work on a new version of the children’s health insurance legislation that the president vetoed earlier this year. Although a second version of that bill was submitted to the White House late last week, it is also expected to be vetoed.

Despite the Maryland lawmaker’s optimism, however, most Members aren’t getting ready to pack their luggage and leave town anytime soon.

“I’ve already told my 5-year-old daughter and my 4-year-old son that we may have to tell Santa Claus to deliver Christmas presents in Washington, D.C. — which he can do,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). “So that tells you what I think of Mr. Hoyer’s prediction.”

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.), who foresees a Dec. 21 end of session, said of Hoyer’s prediction: “That would be a pleasant surprise but that would be a huge surprise.”

One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, echoed that sentiment. “Experience teaches it won’t happen,” the lawmaker said.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) declined to make his own prediction on adjournment.

“I hope he’s right,” he said of Hoyer, and later added: “There’s a lot to do to get it done next week.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who has previously suggested that the House abolish setting an adjournment date, noting that it rarely meets the October deadline — said of a mid-December departure: “Steny could be exactly right, but that would mean he and his Members plan on caving much sooner than we thought.”

A Pelosi spokesman said: “The plan is to complete our work by Dec. 14. I would hope Republicans would cooperate.”

House staffers, who unlike Members don’t have the option of reserving seats on various flights and cherry-picking the most convenient, also seemed unlikely to bet in favor of Hoyer’s adjournment prediction.

“We all hope he’s right, but have you ever tried changing a plane ticket around the holidays?” said one House aide, who asked not to be identified. “The safe money is probably on a late flight home.”

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.