House to work on approps, Senate on Defense

Intense committee-level work on the healthcare reform package will dominate attention in the House next week, but members also will be voting on two of President Obama's top priorities -- legislation to re-establish statutory pay/go and improve food safety.

In addition, the House is expected to take up two more fiscal 2010 appropriations bills -- the Labor-HHS and Transportation-HUD measures.

Obama endorsed the pay/go idea during his presidential campaign. After taking office, he called on Congress to quickly restore pay/go spending constraints that have been credited by some for the surpluses of the 1990s. The bill would require that any tax and mandatory spending legislation that adds to the deficit be offset.

However, the bill has generated some controversy because it is bypassing the Budget Committee in what Budget ranking member Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has called a "troubling precedent."

The House will also take up Obama's call to act on improving food safety by considering a bill that would, among other things, give the FDA more funding and power to investigate producers and recall unsafe food.

The fiscal 2010 Labor-HHS appropriations bill contains a discretionary allocation of $160.7 billion, while the Transportation-HUD bill totals $123.1 billion.

Meanwhile, the Senate will continue work on the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill, with Senate leaders hoping to have a healthcare bill on the floor as early as the following week, despite growing calls from some Democratic moderates for a slower pace.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., had said they wanted to finish the defense bill in one week, but that goal slipped badly after a key vote to strip authorization for seven F-22 fighter jets from the bill was delayed by a dispute over an amendment expanding the federal definition of hate crimes.

Republicans oppose the hate crimes provision, arguing it does not belong in the defense authorization bill.

The dispute means the Senate has yet to vote on any amendments four days into debate, with a host of amendments still pending. Reid is threatening to hold a cloture vote around 1 a.m. Friday on the hate crimes amendment unless Republicans agree to an earlier vote.

Senate Democrats are setting the ambitious goal of having a healthcare overhaul bill ready for the floor once the Defense authorization bill is done. That would require the Finance Committee to complete a markup of its healthcare measure next week, then for that bill to be rapidly merged with that of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Reid said he would handle the merger of the two bills "carefully." Because revenue bills must start in the House, the Senate will take up a shell House bill, and then vote on the merged healthcare bills as a substitute amendment, Reid said.

Reid said finishing the defense bill, confirming Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and completing healthcare before the August recess "is doable," though he left some wiggle room on healthcare timing.

"We are going to do our best to complete the [Defense] authorization bill, we are going [to vote on] Sotomayor before we leave and we are scheduled to do health care before we leave," he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Thursday scheduled a committee vote on Sotomayor's nomination for next Tuesday, although Republicans are likely to ask for a week's delay.

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