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Senate Aims to Finish Reform Bill; GOP Spices Up House Action

The Senate is poised to wrap up consideration of sweeping financial reform legislation next week but not before considering more controversial amendments and jumping a few procedural hurdles along the way.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to file a cloture motion Monday to end debate. That would tee up a Wednesday vote to end debate, with final passage likely coming Thursday. Reid will have to win over at least one Republican to reach the 60-vote threshold to end debate, however, and is betting that moderate GOPers will join his ranks.

Some, such as Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, seem prime targets to vote in favor of the legislation. But as Reid started laying the groundwork within his caucus to move things along last week, colleagues on the other side cried fowl that he was shutting off debate prematurely.

But Democrats are eager to shift their focus to jobs. They hope to bring up a small-business loan bill and a package of extenders for unemployment benefits and tax provisions this work period, which ends in two weeks when both chambers break for a one-week Memorial Day recess.

“We look forward to their finishing that so we can go to conference and send a very clear message: Never again will recklessness on Wall Street cause joblessness on Main Street,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters late last week of the Senate’s progress on financial reform, adding that the legislation “points out the difference between where we are, the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Things could get interesting on the House floor next week, when the chamber — which has been in low-profile mode so far this work period — is slated to take up a tax extenders package and take a second stab at a science bill that Republicans thwarted by inserting sexually charged language.

Democratic leaders on Thursday pulled the science bill, which would authorize funding for scientific research across several federal agencies, after Republicans successfully attached an anti-pornography amendment that also struck $42.5 billion in authorizations from the bill. Republicans defended the amendment as a victory for fiscal restraint, but the bill’s Democratic sponsors angrily accused them of playing politics.

The Republican amendment included a prohibition on paying salaries to federal employees covered by the bill if they have been disciplined for watching pornography, making it politically difficult for many Members to vote against it. Democratic leaders decided to allow their Members to vote for the GOP proposal and make another run at the bill next week.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Republicans have focused on sexual behavior to try to lure Democrats into supporting an amendment, and Democrats now are girding for more such attempts from the GOP.

The other major item on the agenda is the “extenders” package, which would revive expiring tax breaks and extended unemployment insurance. The bill is likely to set off another round of sparring with fiscal conservatives demanding it be deficit-neutral and liberal Democrats asserting the legislation merits the status of emergency spending, which does not need to be offset. Both chambers must pass the bill before the Memorial Day break, and sending the measure to the White House for signature in time could be a photo finish.

The bill also could reignite the debate over offshore drilling at a time when Republicans — who generally support expanded drilling — are struggling to regain their footing on the issue, following the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the package also would include investments in infrastructure and funding for a summer jobs program.

Although its scope is much broader, Democrats are again casting the legislation as a plank in their election-year jobs agenda.

“Our mantra here, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, the four letter word that we keep our attention focused on,” Pelosi said.

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