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Road Map: CR Would Give Congress a Ticket Out of Town

With three weeks left on the official calendar for the 110th Congress — and with a laundry list of unresolved issues that would give the next Congress fits — Senate Democrats are preparing for the possibility that the Sept. 26 adjournment date might slip as well as the growing likelihood that lawmakers will return to work following the November elections.

[IMGCAP(1)]According to Democratic leadership aides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has asked staff to draw up the outlines of three continuing resolutions: one to fund the government through the end of November, one through the end of December and a third that would hold the federal government over until the 111th Congress is up and running in February.

Speculation has already begun to swirl in the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms that, with defense authorization, energy legislation, an economic stimulus package and tax legislation still on the “to do” list, Reid might keep the Senate in past Sept. 26.

The “will he/won’t he” speculation over whether the majority leader will keep his colleagues in town into the fall is becoming a tradition of late. Unlike previous election years – when both parties ultimately found a way to spend most of October at home campaigning – this year neither Republicans nor Democrats seem ready to suspend their partisan sniping to get to, well, the sanctioned partisan sniping.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday the Bush administration was not interested in discussing a continuing resolution until Congress passes at least one appropriations bill.

“I think that we need to ask Congress to actually get their work done and actually pass an appropriations bill, instead of having to move forward to a CR. This is the longest time it’s been in 20 years since Congress has actually passed one appropriations bill. It’s not a record to be proud of. And we would like to actually have them do some of that before we talk about a CR,” Perino said.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley accused the White House of engaging in a pattern of refusing to negotiate and then blaming Democrats.

“Dana’s confused if she thinks we’re just going to send bills down there for the president to veto even before they’ve had a chance to look at them. As they sprint to the finish line this White House still refuses to negotiate with the Democratic leaders in either the House or the Senate” on major legislation, Manley said.

Reid signaled Monday he has an aggressive agenda for the next three weeks, starting with the Defense Department authorization bill this week, energy legislation next week and an economic stimulus package before adjourning, as well as some sort of CR.

But with the election in full swing, it is unclear whether much of anything will get done. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) refused Monday to agree to a proposal by Armed Services ranking member John Warner (R-Va.) to limit amendments to those that are germane and under the committee’s jurisdiction. Republicans have previously said they would look to attach oil drilling language to the bill, and McConnell said he would need to discuss the issue with his Conference today.

Likewise, next week’s energy debate – which could include votes on a Democratic bill, a GOP proposal and a compromise put forth by the bipartisan “Gang of 10” could end in a stalemate.

Democratic and Republican leadership aides said no decisions have been made on how to proceed – and that none are likely for at least a week. Without any deals, they said Reid and Republican leaders are likely to resume their war of process attrition: Republicans demand open-ended amendment processes, Reid rejects those demands and files cloture, resulting in a GOP filibuster.

— Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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