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Senate’s First Order of Business: Not Much

With health care reform and a sweeping jobs package not yet ready for Senate floor action, the chamber will keep busy next week by considering a handful of nominations and an increase in the national debt limit.The Senate, on recess since Dec. 24, is scheduled to gavel in for a pro forma session Tuesday, with Members back to work in earnest Wednesday. Senators are expected to kick off with a vote on the judicial nomination of Beverly Martin, tapped for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Martin’s nomination has lagged on the executive calendar since September. The Senate will then shift to increasing the national debt limit for the second time in two months. The $925 billion debt limit increase would increase the overall debt ceiling from $12.39 trillion to $13.029 trillion and builds on a short-term increase approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve. Senate Republicans agreed not to obstruct a vote on that $290 billion increase — which cleared by a 60-39 vote — after striking a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that allows them to offer a series of amendments to the longer-term debt limit bill. Reid could decide to use the next few weeks to clear a handful of other controversial nominees. Erroll Southers, Obama’s controversial pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration, and Ben Bernanke, nominated to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, are the subject of GOP holds, and Reid will likely have to use procedural maneuvers to bring both nominations to the floor for a vote. Bernanke’s current term as expires Jan. 31.

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