START Work Continues; Vote on Defense Bill Possible

Posted December 21, 2010 at 4:16pm

Updated: 11:47 p.m.

The House and Senate may finally be on course to leave town for the holidays, but work remains on several outstanding measures, and Members could be back next week.

The Senate rejected several amendments to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and its resolution of ratification Tuesday night, but it did not hold a ratification vote. The chamber voted to end debate on the treaty earlier in the day.

The chamber will reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday and resume consideration of the treaty. However, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said late Tuesday that he hoped time could be yielded back to consider a House-passed defense authorization, as well as a measure to provide health benefits to Sept. 11 first responders.

Sen. John Kerry said late Tuesday that he believed two START amendments remain to be considered before a vote on passage. The Massachusetts Democrat did not give a time frame for a final vote.

Levin said he hoped to conclude work on the defense authorization “early in the day” Wednesday. Passage would send the bill to the president, while the 9/11 bill would advance to the House if passed.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he’s determined to finish the 9/11 bill and that he would like to pass it this week if he can reach a deal with Republicans. Barring an agreement, however, Reid may have to reconvene the Senate next week to finish it.

“I think they’ll get a deal,” a GOP aide familiar with the issue said.

Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday evening that he had spoken with Reid and that the Senate appears headed to a procedural vote Wednesday on the first responders bill. The New York Democrat is one of the bill’s most outspoken advocates in the chamber.

“With the holidays fast approaching, we urge the Republicans to not drag this debate out needlessly,” he said in a statement.

The measure would then move to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon that there was a “high likelihood” of a vote Wednesday.

Schumer asked House Members to stick around on Capitol Hill to vote on the first responders measure before the end of the year. “For our 9/11 first responders, the finish line is finally in view,” he said in his statement.

Meanwhile, House Members cleared a continuing resolution for the president’s signature Tuesday night. The CR would keep the government running through March 4, and the Senate approved it earlier in the day.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.