Democrats set fast schedule for Defense bill

Top Senate Democrats hope to dispense with the fiscal 2010 defense authorization in just four days next week so they can clear the Senate floor for health care legislation and a vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

But with battles expected over several provisions of the defense bill, meeting that timeline might be a tall order.

Sotomayor's nomination will be considered by the Judiciary Committee for most of next week, with a committee vote sending the nomination to the floor possible the following week.

Also next week, Senate Finance Committee members will continue working on their health care overhaul proposal, which must be merged with a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions bill before reaching the floor. Democrats say they hope to take up the merged bill before the August recess.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expects to pass the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill as early as Thursday. A Reid spokeswoman said Democrats have an agreement to move to the defense bill Monday.

Reid said he expects to reach agreement Thursday for a cloture vote on the nomination of Robert Groves to serve as Census director. That vote could come as early as Monday. Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., have holds on the nomination because Groves had supported statistical sampling to help count the nation's population. Groves and others have said sampling will not be used in the 2010 census.

Completing defense authorization in one week, which both Reid and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., called their goal, represents an ambitious timeline. The measure has previously consumed the chamber for more than two weeks, and several likely fights loom.

Levin and Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., plan to try to reverse the committee's decision to authorize $1.75 billion for seven F-22s the administration did not request.

McCain is also expected to push to strip the bill of funding for the alternate engine program for the Joint Strike Fighter. Republicans might urge authorization of more missile defense funding.

With a packed summer agenda looming, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Thursday said part of the August recess, set to start Aug. 7, could be shortened to add time to move key bills.

In the House, Democratic leaders are expecting floor action next week on the $33.3 billion fiscal 2010 Energy and Water appropriations bill, as well as the $24.1 billion Financial Services appropriations bill.

The House schedule could be altered by developments involving the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization measure. It seems increasingly likely that a floor vote on that measure might slip into next week because of procedural maneuvering and partisan wrangling.

The Energy and Water bill includes $5.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, including money to help address the nation's water infrastructure needs.

The Financial Services spending bill includes more than $1 billion that drafters say will strengthen the SEC's ability to monitor and enforce rules that govern investments and financial markets and detect fraud.

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