Senate leader's Christmas wish list is growing

In a legislative feat to rival Santa dropping off a world of gifts by Christmas morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is set to try passing a fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, a continuing resolution, short-term debt limit increase and a healthcare overhaul bill before Dec. 25.

The marathon push would probably require the Senate to meet throughout the weekend; it's possible but is a tall order, according to one Republican leadership aide. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., went so far as to say he didn't see how Reid could succeed.

Following the House's expected passage of the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill on Wednesday, Senate aides expect Reid to file cloture on the bill, which carries a two-month extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits. Reid's action would set up a cloture vote by Friday or sooner, with a final passage vote possible Saturday.

Passage of the defense bill could be complicated by the likely "no" vote by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., an opponent of expanding the war in Afghanistan, but Senate aides are confident they will prevail either by limiting Feingold's opposition to his final passage vote or by picking up GOP support.

Once the defense bill passes, which Senate leadership aides still hope will be Friday if Republicans yield time, Reid is expected to file three cloture motions on his healthcare bill -- on a manager's amendment, substitute amendment and the bill -- setting up a series of consecutive cloture clocks that total 90 hours. By keeping the Senate in all weekend and for marathon sessions Reid would have time for a vote on passage by Christmas Eve.

Democratic senators said the first and likely decisive cloture vote could come Saturday, or early Sunday morning. Subsequent cloture votes could come Monday and late Tuesday or Wednesday. Democrats appear to be banking on Republicans, if cloture is invoked on the healthcare manager's amendment and passage is assured, possibility yielding back time to allow the chamber to go home Dec. 23.

The Senate this week will also have to pass a continuing resolution to extend funding for the Defense Department through Dec. 23 or Dec. 24 to provide time to pass the defense spending bill after the existing CR expires Friday and a standalone short-term extension of the debt limit. Senate aides said Democrats hope to pass both by unanimous consent.

Democrats contend Republicans might agree to a quick vote on the debt limit because it is a vote they view as politically favorable, particularly if the agreement includes the chance to offer several amendments, which Democrats might allow for quick contention.

Democrats say they also hope the GOP will allow a short-term CR, perhaps on the grounds that military funding otherwise could run out, one aide said.

The Senate's task would be complicated if the House leaves, making it impossible to alter bills and return them to the lower chamber.

House leaders said passage of the four bills Wednesday would wrap up their chamber's legislative business for the year. If that happens, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is hoping to lead a congressional delegation to climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. The delegation would leave as early as Wednesday night.

"Let's see how we do," she said. "I'm very excited about going. And I would be very disappointed not to go. But our work comes first."

Billy House contributed to this report.

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