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Big Week of Taxes, War Spending, Oil Spill and Energy Debates on Tap

Senate Democrats hope to win approval of a tax extenders package next week, but first they will consider a handful of amendments — and leaders will have to cajole some moderates into voting for the bill.

Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) have expressed reservations with the $140 billion measure, suggesting Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have some selling to do.

One attempt appears to be an amendment introduced Thursday by Reid and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), which would extend the June 30 deadline for first-time homebuyers to close their deals and qualify for a popular tax credit.
The proposal would postpone that deadline until Sept. 30, and including the measure in the extenders package might brighten the appearance to some Members.

A handful of other amendments are pending on the bill, which the House passed last month. Reid has outlined a hearty legislative agenda for this four-week work period, and being on the extenders package a second week means consideration of other items will likely be pushed back. Aides predict Reid could file cloture on the extenders bill Tuesday, teeing up a vote on final passage by the end of the week.

The Senate is back at 2 p.m. Monday, with the first votes of the week scheduled for Tuesday morning when a trio of district court nominees will be considered. The Senate will vote on whether to confirm Tanya Pratt, nominated to the southern district of Indiana; Brian Jackson, nominated to the middle district of Louisiana; and Elizabeth Foote, nominated to the western district of Louisiana.

Reid, who is also juggling how he might bring up an energy bill this year, will raise the issue with caucus members Thursday. Reid met this week with relevant committee chairmen on the issue, but the meeting yielded little in terms of a game plan. Members on both sides of the aisle have been eager to weigh in following the BP oil spill.

The issue will also be spotlighted in the House next week, when top oil company executives find themselves in the hot seat during two high-profile Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearings. On Tuesday, the Energy and Environment subpanel, chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), will question the heads of several major oil companies during a hearing titled “Drilling Down On America’s Energy Future: Safety, Security And Clean Energy.”

BP CEO Tony Hayward will receive a grilling Thursday from the Oversight and Investigations subpanel, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

“BP stated that they had the technology to drill deep, that they had the technology to prevent a blowout and that they had the technology to clean up, and none of these things happened to be a fact,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday.

Last week, Pelosi gave committee chairmen a July 4 deadline to prepare legislation aimed at responding to the disaster, as oil continues to spew into the Gulf almost two months after it began.

House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are attempting to tee up a trio of major legislative items during a rare five-day workweek, but chances are good that they end up pushing off one or more of those proposals.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) said late last week that the House, which will reconvene Monday, is likely to consider supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. House Democrats have indicated the chamber likely will use the version of the legislation that the Senate passed late last month — with some changes — as the base bill rather than mark up their own version of legislation. The nearly $60 billion Senate-passed bill includes a range of non-war spending including money for past disaster recovery and for government operations related to the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Democratic leaders will have to bridge deep divisions within their own caucus about the legislation, with progressives opposed to funding for the war and Blue Dogs wary of additional non-war deficit spending. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said that the CPC would send a letter this week to Pelosi demanding a separate vote on just the war portion of the supplemental.

“What we’re hoping for and counting on is two separate votes,” Woolsey said.

Top Democrats are working to overcome objections from the gun lobby and reticence from vulnerable freshmen to legislation that aims to roll back a January Supreme Court ruling easing restrictions on political spending.

Also on the agenda is legislation designed to encourage banks to lend to small businesses, the latest plank in Democrats’ election-year jobs agenda. Pelosi characterized that legislation, which already slipped from the House calendar last week, as demonstrative of a “very, very important commitment from this Congress and this president to have capital available to small businesses, recognizing that they are the job creators.”

House votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m. Monday, and the chamber is slated to be in session Friday.

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