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Road Map: Reid to Close Deals the House Sent Over

Don’t pack your bags just yet, but if all goes well this week, Senate could mercifully leave town for the July Fourth recess by Thursday night — an early birthday present to the country, perhaps.

[IMGCAP(1)]Of course, that depends on whether Senators do things the hard way or the easy way. Luckily for burned-out Congressional staffers, it appears that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will be trying to urge his fellow Senators to take the easy path to both a supplemental spending bill for the Iraq War and a warrantless wiretapping bill.

“I think the glide path is pretty well set,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

That’s not to say that there won’t be bumps

along the way. Reid is expected to gently advise his fellow Democrats at their lunch today that the supplemental deal House Democrats struck last week with the White House should be cleared for the president’s signature.

Undoubtedly, there is no shortage of Senate Democrats who would like to add back some of the $10 billion in domestic spending that the House cut from the Senate version. But Reid and others probably will argue that getting the White House to agree to expansive new educational benefits for GIs as well as a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance is a good deal. Plus, Democratic leaders are eager to get the Iraq War issue off their plates so they can focus on domestic issues for the rest of the campaign season, even if that means funding the war for another full year.

Getting civil-liberties-loving Democrats to back down from using procedural hurdles on the warrantless spying bill probably will be trickier, however.

Several Senate Democrats — including Reid — have made their opposition to the House-brokered bill known, but it also probably has more than the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster based on GOP support. That prediction will be tested on Wednesday when the Senate votes to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on the motion to proceed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act rewrite.

Once supporters have proved their strength, the quickest way to complete the bill would be for opponents to agree, as Reid has suggested, to a vote on stripping provisions that would give telecommunications companies conditional immunity for complying with Bush administration requests to surveil terrorist suspects without a warrant.

If opponents agree to that deal, the Senate could avoid a drawn-out procedural dance that would still end up with the bill passing — immunity intact — by a fairly large margin.

“Barring any last-minute Democrat filibusters, we’ll be able to pass two key national security bills by Thursday night,” one Senate GOP leadership aide predicted. “That’s a big deal given that we started this Congress with leading Democrats promising to end funding for the troops and to block FISA; now we’ll have both.”

While votes on the supplemental and FISA are expected Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate appears poised to pass a major housing bill by Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning at the latest. Although Democrats continue to fear a blowup on the floor by GOP Senators seeking to add extraneous amendments, Republicans have only a few amendments left to offer, the Senate GOP leadership aide said.

Then there’s that pesky issue of making sure doctors who serve Medicare patients don’t take a pay cut at the beginning of July. While Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are working on a long-term fix, the best bet is on a short-term extension of current law — to be passed this week — until both chambers get on the same page on how to pay for it.

Reid also is working with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on an agreement to vote on a few more circuit court nominees — though not necessarily the ones Republicans have been agitating for. The chamber might vote on the nomination of Helene White to be a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Republicans had held up her nomination because Bush picked the former Clinton administration nominee as part of a deal with Democrats on judges.

And those Federal Election Commission nominees that have been held up for months, paralyzing the agency? They could be confirmed by the end of the week, the Senate GOP leadership aide said.

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