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Congress Enters Mad Dash to Recess

Both chambers will scramble this week to approve several major legislative priorities before leaving town for the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Senators on Monday will begin considering a $60 billion war supplemental bill. The chamber is expected to spend three days debating a handful of amendments to the spending package, including one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) demanding the measure be fully paid for.

“Both sides are eager to see this passed this week” one Republican staffer said, predicting a final vote on the supplemental could occur Wednesday, but more likely Thursday.

The House also would have to act on the supplemental this week in order to send it to the president’s desk for signature, but the prospects for House action have dimmed given the ticking clock and divisions within the Democratic Caucus on Afghanistan policy.

The supplemental includes money for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Haiti relief, flood recovery funds for the Northeast and Midwest and funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While the House faces a packed week that will kick off with consideration of a tax extenders package, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) late last week did not rule out the possibility of also bringing up the supplemental. Because many House liberals oppose the war but want to be able to vote for other aspects of the legislation, particularly funding for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, they are pressing Democratic leaders to pull out the war money for a separate vote.

But first, the House will consider the tax extenders bill, which despite being chocked with tax sweeteners is likely to fuel opposition from fiscal conservatives who charge the bill should be fully offset.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted late last week that the bill had not been pushed off because of concerns within her own Caucus but because Members and the public needed enough time to review it.

“The delay is really more about the transparency and having it on the Internet,” the California Democrat told reporters Thursday. “We want to have it up on the Web in sufficient time so that people could see what is in it. We are very proud of what is in it, and that is really what it is more about.”

If approved, the extenders package would revive a variety of tax breaks and extend through the end of the year unemployment insurance benefits and COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed. It also would avert a scheduled cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and provide a six-month extension of increased federal matching aid to states for Medicaid.

Because of the tight timeline and fiscal concerns surrounding the package, prospects for the Senate to wrap up consideration of the supplemental and the extenders measure by the end of the next week are slim. Still, Senate Democrats do not have plans to try to pass a short-term extension to unemployment insurance benefits if the larger extenders bill gets bogged down despite the fact that those benefits will run out at month’s end.

Also on the House’s agenda this week is the annual bill authorizing spending for the Pentagon and other military-related programs, which has the potential to serve as a vehicle for debate over Afghanistan and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces. Republicans are girding for a battle over how many amendments they are allowed to offer to the bill.

House Democrats also hope this week to take a third crack at a science bill authorizing funding for research over several federal agencies that has been foiled by Republican maneuvering twice in two weeks.

To accommodate its full plate, the House will gavel into session on Monday, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. Hoyer late last week urged Members to plan for the possibility that the chamber could be in session Friday if it does not complete work on the tax extenders package.

“Clearly if we can complete the week’s business then we will not have to meet, but … there are a number of items that have expiration dates either on the 31st of May or the first of June,” Hoyer said of key provisions in the extenders package.

“I do not want to give away Friday because it is the last day we’ll be here for 10 days and therefore we need to address those issues,” he added.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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