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Spending Bill, START Top Week’s Agenda for Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Sunday evening put the chamber on a course to finish its business by midweek, setting up test votes on two crucial agenda items.

Still anticipating GOP-led filibusters of both a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through March 4, 2011, Reid scheduled Tuesday votes to overcome those blockades. He said he is still holding out hope that he will reach time agreements with Republicans, which would obviate the need for those votes.

Additionally, Reid said he hopes that if the filibusters are rejected, Republicans will not insist on all the debate time they could use under the rules. Sixty votes are needed to kill a filibuster.

In explaining why he was moving to force a vote on the CR, Reid said that funding for the government will expire at the end of Tuesday but did not mention the dust-up between Democrats and Republicans over the measure.

Though Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to a two-and-a-half-month CR, other issues appeared unresolved, with Republicans objecting to some special provisions in the resolution that they said might constitute earmarks.

It was not immediately clear which parts of the CR Republicans objected to. A summary of the CR distributed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Sunday evening listed several “new anomalies,” including President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze pay for federal workers in 2011.

The anomalies also included language increasing the Veterans Benefits Administration budget, extending government authority to complete some highway projects, ensuring level funding for low-income heating assistance programs, preventing some fee and rate increases on small-business loans and telecommunications companies, and ensuring that Pell college grants stay at 2010 levels.

Democrats avoided a potential fight on the CR over stalled food safety legislation by passing the bill again by voice vote. The Senate had passed the measure in November by a wide margin, but it was held up in the House over technical issues regarding the way the Senate handled it. The repassed bill will still need House approval, and Reid said he has been assured that will happen Monday or Tuesday.

The vote on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will likely occur after the vote on the CR. START needs a two-thirds vote, 67 in the full chamber, for ratification.

Meanwhile, New York Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said Sunday that Reid has promised them a vote on a health care measure for Sept. 11 first responders as soon as the START debate concludes. However, getting to final passage on that measure could be tricky if Republicans insist on using all the procedural time available to them. Still, Gillibrand insisted that if Democrats can overcome a filibuster, momentum will build for a quick resolution to debate on the bill.

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