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Reid to Push Small-Business Bill; House Democrats Tout Jobs Agenda

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes next week to score what is likely to be his first and only win of the month — a small-business bill.

The measure has been languishing in the chamber for months as Republicans blasted components of the bill and demanded consideration of a handful of their amendments. But support moved in the Democrats’ favor when Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) announced earlier this week that he would support the bill.

First, the chamber must consider an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) that would repeal part of the health care law affecting small businesses. Democrats are working hard to defeat the amendment, which will be on the floor Tuesday, although where the votes fall remains unclear. Regardless, the majority has the 60 votes that it needs to end debate on the overall measure with Voinovich’s support, and the small-business bill is expected to clear the chamber by the end of the week.

Before moving to the small-business proposal, the Senate will vote Monday night on the judicial nomination of Jane Stranch to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a bed-check vote used as a tool to ensure Members return to town promptly for the work week. Stranch is expected to be confirmed with few defectors.

Reid also hopes to pass an extension of some of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush during this next work stretch, although he must corral a fractured caucus with competing interests on the issue. A handful of Democrats say tax cuts for middle- and upper-income Americans should be extended, while others — including President Barack Obama — maintain that cuts should only be extended for couples making less than $250,000 a year.

Other items left for consideration before the chamber adjourns include a continuing resolution and a defense authorization bill. The defense measure typically enjoys broad bipartisan support, but this year it has proven to be a heavier lift because of an amendment in the bill to overturn the military’s controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Republicans are expected to demand considerable time to consider the measure, and with Democrats eager to return to the campaign trail back home, Reid could put off the bill until the lame-duck session.

In the House, Democratic leaders are once again going to highlight planks of their “Make It in America” election-year agenda aimed at promoting manufacturing-based jobs.

They will consider two measures, one sponsored by Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), who is in a competitive bid to keep his seat, and another by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) that would install new “Buy American” requirements on government agencies.

The House also is slated to consider a bill that would authorize money for rural electric cooperatives to make loans aimed at promoting energy efficiency.

Annual events at the Capitol tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could also take on a political tinge this year in light of the debate over a Muslim cleric’s plans to build an Islamic center near ground zero.

The House will consider a resolution next week honoring the anniversary, but — in a move that could be aimed at averting controversy — the chamber will wait until the week of Sept. 20 to make another run at a bill that would provide billions of dollars in assistance to first responders and others with cleanup-induced health problems from the ground zero site.

Two of the bill’s top backers — New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler — released a statement last week saying that they had been told by leadership that the bill was likely to come up under regular order and that they had “the expectation and belief that neither side will play politics with this vitally-important legislation.”

In July, Democratic leaders, in an attempt to thwart politically challenging GOP amendments, tried to pass the measure under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds vote for passage, but they fell short of that threshold. The vote sparked a heated exchange on the House floor between Democrat Anthony Weiner and Republican Peter King, both of whom represent New York districts, over which party was to blame.

A Democratic leadership aide said House leaders were “still talking to the New York delegation about how they want to move forward and when they want to do it.”

The rest of the House’s agenda for the work period is likely to be similarly light, and Democratic leaders may end up shaving a week off the session, which is slated to end Oct. 8. The Democratic leadership aide said top Democrats likely would forgo individual appropriations bills in favor of a broad continuing resolution, which the chamber would need to pass before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

Legislation giving a one-time, $250 cost-of-living increase to Social Security beneficiaries and a bill changing a small-business reporting requirement in the new health care law are also possible floor items this work period.

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