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Senate Presidents Day Recess May Be in Jeopardy

With the Feb. 29 expiration of the payroll tax break bearing down and other business to get through, Senate Democrats could skip their scheduled Presidents Day recess, which is set to begin Feb. 17.

Senate Democratic leadership aides said no decisions have been made on the matter.

Democrats are spending today at a retreat to discuss their 2012 political strategy.

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a motion to begin debate on a bill reauthorizing the nation’s surface transportation programs, which Democrats have touted as a jobs bill. The motion is likely to pass, with the Senate expected to spend all next week on the measure.

Debate on the bill could spill into the following week if the Senate does not recess, a leadership aide said, or the Senate would resume consideration after the break.

Talks over extending the payroll tax cut may also factor into the recess decision.

With negotiations over developing a bipartisan extension through the rest of the year showing little signs of progress, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that if no deal is reached before the end of the month, Democrats would propose their own extension package.

“We need an agreement next Monday or Tuesday; otherwise, we’ll have to come to the floor with something,” Reid said Tuesday.

With all of this in flux, Senate Democrats are unlikely to hold votes on nominations before the Presidents Day recess, a Democratic aide said.

Senate Democrats had hoped to try to hold votes on one package of judicial and administration appointees or to have votes on separate packages, the aide said, adding that they would include consensus nominees to ferret out ideological opposition.

But with the surface transportation bill expected to be on the Senate floor, it is unlikely there will be time for a vote on nomination.

Democrats see the nomination votes as a way to test whether Republicans are prepared to filibuster appointees following President Barack Obama’s move in early January to make a recess appointment of Richard Cordray to be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three slots on the National Labor Relations Board.

Republicans question the legitimacy of the appointments and charged the White House with overreach. They contend Congress was not in recess when the appointments were made because they held short pro-forma sessions every three days during the holiday break. The White house argues that the pro-forma sessions were a gimmick and didn’t count as a bona fide session.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has threatened to slow down the nomination process, and possibly other legislation, over the appointments. But other GOP Senators, such as Lindsay Graham (S.C.), believe there will be no slow-down.

“I expect some of [the nominees] to get through,” Graham said Tuesday.

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