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New Senator Will Join Push to Clear Same Old Backlog

Senate Democrats will welcome a new member to their caucus next week, but little else will be fresh as they push previously stalled legislation on unemployment insurance and continue talks on how to tackle energy reform before adjourning for the August recess.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will call for a procedural vote Tuesday on an unemployment insurance measure after Carte Goodwin — tapped to temporarily fill the seat held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) — is sworn in.

Democrats fell one vote shy of reaching cloture two days after Byrd’s death, prompting Reid to switch to a “no” vote at the last minute to preserve his right to bring the procedural motion to the floor another time. With Goodwin’s vote and the continued support of Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Reid is hoping to finally pass the bill that has lingered on the Democratic agenda.

Democrats hope Goodwin’s arrival also helps them clear a small-business jobs package that has seen limited floor action, as Members worked behind-the-scenes to corral Snowe’s backing to get over the 60-vote hump for passage. Restored to 59 Members in their caucus with Goodwin’s arrival, Democrats will still need Snowe — or another Republican — to clear the bill this week.

Even if they clear both priorities next week, the two grand dames of this work period would remain: energy reform and the confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

Reid pledged last week that a compromise energy bill would be on the floor the week of July 26. Democrats are sure to continue talks next week and may broach the subject at their Tuesday luncheon, but what the proposal looks like and whether it can even win enough support on the floor is in doubt. Time is also an issue because Kagan’s nomination could take up a week’s worth of floor time and will likely be the last agenda item before the Senate’s scheduled Aug. 6 adjournment for the summer break.

Both chambers must also reconcile what to do about the war supplemental before Members head home to campaign over the August break. The House returned a more expensive measure to the Senate earlier this month, which Republicans in the upper chamber consider dead on arrival. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pleaded with Senate Republicans last week to swiftly pass the spending bill, but Republicans in both chambers have blasted Democrats for adding unrelated spending items to troop funding.

The House again will consider a bevy of cats and dogs while the chamber waits on the Senate to return the unemployment bill and the war supplemental.

The path to completion of the war spending bill got messier in the face of a White House veto threat, stemming from the plan of House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) to cut Obama’s “Race to the Top” education program to pay for $16 billion in domestic spending that the House added to the measure July 1.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said late last week that he was optimistic the Senate would return the unemployment bill and the supplemental to the House next week. The Maryland Democrat said the latest guidance from the Pentagon indicated the Defense Department needed to have the troop funding by Aug. 7, which roughly coincides with when the Senate plans to break for its August recess.

In the meantime, the House is slated next week to consider two bills related to the Gulf Coast oil spill — one that would expand deepwater drilling research and another that would promote oil spill prevention and response research — as well legislation to include wind damage in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met late last week with a group of committee chairmen who have been crafting bills in response to the oil spill. Hoyer said additional piecemeal legislation prompted by the catastrophe likely would come to the floor the week of July 26, the last week that the House is slated to be in session before the August recess.

Hoyer also indicated that one or more appropriations bills — most likely the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and military construction and Veterans Affairs — could come to the floor the week after next. The full Appropriations Committee is slated to mark up those bills Tuesday. Republicans are itching for a fight over spending bills if Democrats, as they did last year, try to limit amendments.

The House will reconvene Monday, with votes postponed until 6 p.m.