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Spending Bills Keep Senate Busy

Returning for work during a week typically reserved for an October recess, the Senate will continue its slog through a host of appropriations bills and a handful of other legislative priorities.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will attempt to clear at least one appropriations conference report and perhaps two regular spending bills before the week of Oct. 26, when the Senate is set to begin considering a massive health care package.

The Senate has passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills, but only two have made it through a House-Senate conference and to the president’s desk. With slow progress on spending bills, the Senate will likely have to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded for 30 more days. The current CR, passed as part of the legislative branch spending bill, expires Oct. 31.

While consideration of another CR will interrupt the Senate’s work on appropriations, Reid hopes to pass the $680 billion Defense authorization conference report soon. Contained in that bill, which passed the House last week, is an amendment to expand the definition of hate crimes to include violent acts based on sexual orientation. The amendment is a top priority for gay rights advocates.

Reid is also working with Republicans, a GOP aide said, to bring up legislation this week to extend unemployment benefits in all states for an additional 14 weeks. The bill, paid for by extending the federal unemployment tax, would also extend benefits for six more weeks in those states where unemployment rates exceed 8.5 percent.

“If we can bail out the big banks that got us into this financial mess, we should also offer sufficient help to the people hit hardest by this recession — our unemployed workers,— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said in a statement.

Last week, Shaheen, Reid, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) had pushed a bill to extend the unemployment benefits, but Republicans objected, calling for more time to review the bill. A GOP aide said Tuesday that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is in talks with Reid to bring up the bill this week, perhaps on Thursday.

The Senate also has 39 executive branch nominations lingering on the calendar, and it is unclear whether any of them will be brought to the floor this week. An additional 146 nominees are awaiting committee action.

Reid has filed 10 procedural motions so far this year to try to push through stalled nominees.

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