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Reid: It’s the Economy, Iraq, Too, After Recess

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to spend the bulk of April and May on the economy and recession — two issues that have grabbed voters’ attention in this election year.

When the chamber returns from the two-week recess, Reid plans to revisit a Democratic housing bill that Republicans filibustered last month.

“In the coming weeks, we will continue to strengthen our economy by, among other things, addressing the housing crisis and making investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Reid said Friday in a statement.

The Senate Democrats’ other economic measures include a revote on a renewable energy tax package that failed by one vote last year and a new spending package aimed at road building and other potentially job-creating infrastructure improvements.

But Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said Friday that the housing bill is of paramount importance because it “deals with the bull’s-eye of this [economic] crisis, which is foreclosures.”

Schumer said he hoped the second go-round for the housing bill would spark support from President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — both of whom have opposed the measure.

“I hope the president and Sen. McConnell will change their tune and work with us,” Schumer said.

Last month, Republicans blocked the bill from coming up because they objected to bankruptcy provisions in the bill and because they were not going to be allowed to offer amendments on taxes.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will again attempt to block the measure from coming to the Senate floor, but they have spent the past three weeks offering their proposals to address the tide of rising foreclosures and other downward economic indicators.

One Senate GOP leadership aide said Republicans likely would not agree to move forward on the housing measure unless Democrats permit them to offer tax and housing amendments.

“We want to make clear that, if we’re to have another housing debate, our proposals have to have a fair shake,” the aide said.

Republicans also might object to the Democrats’ infrastructure package depending on its cost and scope, though that has not been determined.

“If they bring forth something where they’re just throwing money at a problem without thinking it through, then they’re going to get some pushback,” said the Senate GOP leadership aide.

Democrats might attempt to add the infrastructure spending to the supplemental war spending bill, which also is slated for debate in April and May.

Iraq War funding likely will compete with the economy for the spotlight over the next two months, given that the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is scheduled to testify before Congress on April 7.

His testimony and the long-standing partisan battles over whether to force a drawdown of U.S. forces undoubtedly will serve as lightning rods. And Democrats again will be in the difficult position of trying to find a compromise on the war that allows them to fund it and oppose it simultaneously.

The Senate might have two debates on the Iraq War in the eight-week stretch to come. The first could be during the debate on the supplemental — possibly at the end of April. The second could be during the Defense Department authorization bill at the end of May, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Just last month, Republicans forced the Senate into a nearly weeklong Iraq debate because they say the president’s “surge” has been working and violence has been reduced.

“Democrats were stung by the last week of debate on Iraq, and Petraeus’ visit is not good news for their agenda,” said the Senate GOP leadership aide.

But Democrats said they want to broaden the debate beyond the effects of the surge. They plan to talk about the overall costs of the war in Iraq, which they say include the nearly 4,000 service members killed, the nearly 30,000 wounded soldiers, the weakened readiness of the U.S. military, the drain on the Treasury, and the effect of all that on the country’s ability to fight other threats in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Republicans want to limit the debate to the last few months of this war without acknowledging the four years prior or offering a strategy to ensure we’re not there for 100 more years,” said the Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Meanwhile, Reid aims to bring up other Democratic priorities in April and May. That includes a patent reform bill and a measure intended to improve food safety.

Also expected are conference reports on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the farm bill, a Federal Housing Administration measure and the budget resolution.

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