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Escape Plan Still Unclear

With negotiations over a $700 billion Wall Street bailout dominating the attention of House and Senate leaders, how and when Congress plans to depart this weekend remained unclear.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at press time was aiming to reach an agreement to pass a Defense authorization bill by as early as Thursday evening, although aides said that could easily slip until Saturday.

Reid said Thursday that no votes would occur Friday, though the chamber will be in session. That move is intended to clear the way for Friday’s presidential debate between Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). McCain, who returned to the Senate from the campaign trail, suggested that the debate should be postponed because of the negotiations over the bailout.

Beyond that, the Senate’s schedule is murky at best. Leadership is considering several scenarios for moving the last bits of legislation on its plate — a continuing resolution, a stimulus bill and the bailout.

Although Reid and others have considered moving them as one package, the stimulus package is deeply unpopular with Republicans and could end up being a poison pill. Democratic aides said Thursday that scenario was unlikely, although keeping the bailout bill attached to the CR was still under discussion.

Democratic aides said that though a Saturday session is certain, Reid was still hopeful of getting lawmakers out the door before Sunday.

Leaders also were still unclear Thursday evening as to how long the House will need to stay in session.

“We’re prepared to stay here Saturday, Sunday, next week and thereafter or as long as necessary. We have no arbitrary deadline as to when we’re going home,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNN.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) speculated that the House would come in today to finish debate on tax extenders legislation, economic stimulus legislation and any remaining bills under suspension.

Beyond that, Blunt guessed that the House would meet on Saturday and possibly finish its work by the end of that day, but he said Members might need to come in Sunday, too.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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