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How Long Will the House Stay?

House Democratic leaders are considering breaking at the end of this week — perhaps until the week of Dec. 13 — while they await Senate action on a long-term measure to fund the government as well as on other outstanding legislative items, Democratic sources said Monday.

“It is a possibility for the House to be out, while the Senate gets its work done,” one senior Democratic aide said Monday, noting that the House would then come back the week of Dec. 13 to finish its work for the year.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to huddle over the next two days to finalize a legislative strategy for the lame-duck session that began Nov. 15.

Although Congressional sources once hoped to see Congress adjourn by the end of this week, a host of must-pass bills, as well as several political priorities, remain unresolved and are threatening to push the conclusion of the 111th Congress to Dec. 17 or later.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has scheduled a nearly four-hour caucus meeting for Tuesday afternoon to discuss the legislative agenda. According to Democratic aides, in addition to determining how Democrats will handle the debate over tax cuts, the meeting will likely firm up what other items on Reid’s list can be done. Reid has repeatedly said he would like to address immigration, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and other items — as well as continuing resolution to fund the government — before leaving Washington, D.C., for the year.

In the House, Democratic leaders are slated to meet Monday afternoon ahead of a Monday night Caucus meeting aimed at charting the course for the rest of the year.

Under the latest House scenario, which appears to be one of several under consideration, the House would have to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running in the interim. The current funding resolution expires Friday.

A second senior Democratic aide said Democratic leaders were actively pondering the possibility that they could finish “what’s on the table for this week” and then recess until the Senate acts on a longer-term stop-gap spending measure or an omnibus spending bill. The House could then return and clear that measure — and any other unfinished business — for the president’s signature. The House could also try to clear an extension of some or all of the Bush-era tax cuts if such a measure had passed the Senate at that point.

“That is what leadership is hoping,” said the second senior aide, who added that Democratic leaders were aware that there was little appetite in their Caucus for “just hanging around voting on suspension bills for the next two or three weeks.”

Democratic leadership aides said the leadership conversation and subsequent Caucus meeting could help determine what approach House Democrats take to the expiring tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000.

In the meantime, two senior Democratic aides said Monday that the House would likely vote — possibly as soon as this week — on extending just the tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 a year.

“The point from leadership is that there’s no reason why we should delay a vote on the middle class while we try to work out what we do for upper-income brackets,” one senior Democratic aide said.

Given that it now seems virtually impossible that lawmakers will wrap up their work for the year this week, the aide said the best-case scenario could be for the House to take a short break next week.

“Breaking and coming back, I think there’s a decent possibility of that,” the aide said.

An aide to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), who sets the House’s schedule, said nothing was final in terms of the House’s schedule past this week.

“We’re just focusing on getting our work done,” the aide said.

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