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No Easy, Early Exit for Weary Senators

With little more than a week left before the August recess, Senate Democrats will be racing against the clock to pass a pair of appropriations bills, a Supreme Court nomination and a package of federal program extensions from the House.

That ambitious agenda does not even include a travel promotion bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wanted to resurrect before heading home to tourism-heavy Nevada. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn next Friday, one week after the House’s planned departure.

“We’re also considering what to do with the Highway Trust Fund, whether we need to move something before we leave,— Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Wednesday, noting that bills dealing with unemployment compensation and Postal Service pensions are also top priorities before the recess.

Rounding out next week’s agenda will be Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination, which is expected to clear but could take two or more days of floor time. A handful of GOP Senators are expected to join Democrats in confirming Sotomayor’s installment on the high court. The Judiciary Committee voted mostly along party lines this week to send her nomination to the full Senate.

“If every Republican wanted to speak for an hour on her, I think we would hear a lot of the same thing. That’s 40 hours. So that’s two days,— Reid told reporters Tuesday. “When we get to her, we’re going to work right through, night and day, to finish that.—

Durbin on Wednesday called Sotomayor’s nomination “the curtain closer— and “the last thing we do before we break for the August recess.—

The Finance Committee, meanwhile, remains locked in negotiations on a bipartisan health care reform package, and Reid is pressing for a bill markup next week. The Majority Leader maintains the Senate will consider a final health care package that includes language from both the Finance and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees the week of Sept. 8, when the Senate returns from its four-week August break.

But with health care expecting to take up at least two weeks of precious September floor time, Reid could instead bring up the Highway Trust Fund reauthorization bill that week. The highway measure is set to expire Sept. 30, and while the Senate will likely approve a $7 billion cash infusion next week as part of the broader House package of extenders for a handful of federal programs, Republicans led by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) could demand ample floor time to debate a full 18-month reauthorization.

“The American people deserve to hear a thorough debate about how Congress created the need for yet another bailout,— Coburn spokesman John Hart said of the $7 billion cash boost.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.