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Senate to Turn to Energy

The Senate is expected to wrap up the Defense authorization bill early next week and then move on to energy legislation, which is likely to consume the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to quickly finish the defense bill by Tuesday, as time is dwindling on the remaining days that Congress will remain in town. One amendment, however, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that seeks to recognize the success of the troop surge in Iraq has caused Reid a headache.

Republicans have been pushing for the amendment, which is also sponsored by Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), and could cause political pain for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Democrats might offer their own surge amendment, according to a Democratic aide, which would give Obama cover, as he previously said the addition of forces in Iraq had not achieved all its goals.

A GOP aide speculated that Republicans would not hold up action on the bill. Since the summer session, Senate Republicans have been demanding a vote on offshore drilling and this is the last opportunity.

Reid plans to give GOPers their vote on drilling, right after the Senate is done with the defense bill. Lawmakers will vote on three separate bills — one GOP bill, one Democratic bill and one from the bipartisan group headed by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

All three bills have obstacles to overcome, but especially the one offered by the bipartisan group as several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have opposed provisions, including the tax portions and drilling off the Floridian coastline.

Still, Republicans complain the Reid is not serious about doing something to address rising energy costs because of his insistence for a 60-vote threshold for the bills to pass. The bills are unlikely to garner enough support to pass that ceiling.