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Bailout Package, CR Top House Agenda

In what clearly will not be the last week of the session this year, House leaders plan to spend the week of Sept. 22 advancing a bailout package for flailing financial institutions and a continuing resolution to keep the government running. How long that CR will last will be decided in the coming days.

Despite the planned Sept. 26 adjournment, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress would return in October “if necessary” to deal with the financial sector meltdown and that short-term action aimed at stabilizing financial markets could be part of a continuing resolution next week.

The CR could run until mid-November, Hoyer said. Elements of next week’s continuing resolution remain murky, but Democrats have said it will likely include some stimulus items and a handful of appropriations bills that have bipartisan support.

Hoyer said he expects action early in the week on the financial bailout package that top administration officials and key lawmakers plan to draft this weekend.

It is unclear when administration officials plan to send their massive bailout proposal to Congress, although a senior Democratic aide said on Friday that it could come Friday night, and that staff is preparing to meet throughout the weekend to draft a bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talked to President Bush on Friday about the plan for advancing a bill, the aide said, and the Democratic Caucus will be briefed later by administration officials.

The aide said Pelosi will not be in Washington, D.C., over the weekend but that she has been in touch with her leadership team and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) about how to proceed with negotiations on the proposal.

Republicans took part in an hour and a half conference call Friday with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to ask questions about the forthcoming bailout plan.

Members expressed some concern about the price tag of the proposal, which Paulson said would be hundreds of billions of dollars, but “you didn’t hear a lot of concern” from lawmakers about not being willing to vote for it over its cost, a Republican aide said.

There was mostly “a lot of curiosity” among Members “because nobody knows exactly what they’re doing yet,” the aide said.

In addition to the bailout package and the continuing resolution, the House next week is expected to take up the Defense authorization bill and disaster-relief legislation. Lawmakers could also take up bills that get sent over from the Senate, such as energy tax-extender legislation, the alternative minimum tax bill and mental health parity legislation.

Democratic leaders have also talked about advancing an economic stimulus package, but have said they want to wait to see what stimulus items can be attached to the continuing resolution before bringing forward a separate stimulus bill.

Republicans plan to continue protesting Democratic energy polices and discussing the economy as part of their endgame strategy, although their plans for the week are “all very much caught up in what we do” with the bailout package, a GOP leadership aide said.

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