With almost no chance that the increasingly intractable dispute over the Federal Aviation Administration bill will be resolved before Thursday morning's scheduled cloture vote, Senate leaders now expect adjournment late Thursday or Friday. And with some Democrats apparently "elsewhere," it appears inevitable the Senate is "locked into the schedule" of adjourning sine die at the end of the week, said Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "My sense is that because a number of senators have acknowledged the need to be elsewhere, and since it doesn't appear that there are any votes likely between now and Thursday, that it would be hard to bring them back for a procedural vote," Daschle said Tuesday.
Opponents of a provision in the bill that would make it dificult for Federal Express employees to unionize do not appear likely to give any ground, hoping the delay will give them time to build support. But prospects of changing the provision seem dim, as Daschle and GOP aides predicted about 70 senators will support cloture. Provision opponents could force 30 more hours of post-cloture debate, but Daschle and GOP aides said they hope the opponents will allow a final vote soon after a strong showing on the cloture vote.
Notwithstanding Daschle's comments, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said on the floor Tuesday that votes are possible before Thursday. "The leader has advised members to be prepared for votes between now and then," said Lott spokeswoman Susan Irby. She said GOP leaders "don't know of any need for a vote right now," but one could be needed on the parks bill.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on the floor Tuesday he is negotiating with the Clinton administration on the parks bill. Murkowski said the outcome depends on the administration recognizing the need for an adequate timber supply to three Alaska sawmills from the Tongass National Forest. He also said progress was being made on parks measures for Colorado and Virginia that were left out of House-passed legislation.
Murkowski said he hopes to take up the House bill, amend it and send it back to the House, where it would have to receive voice- vote approval. A House source said some of the Virginia and Colorado projects are negotiable, but some are not. Daschle confirmed progress is being made between Murkowski and the White House, but that the fate of the bill is in Murkowski's hands. "I think we have to take what we can get and move on," Daschle said.
After the FAA bill is completed, several minor bills may be dealt with when Lott and Daschle wrap up the session late Thursday or Friday. At that point, any remaining legislation will be handled by unanimous consent, but Daschle warned again this morning that it may be difficult to move those bills unless the months-long dispute over confirming judges is resolved. Daschle said there are six judges being held up on the executive calendar and several more confirmations lingering in committee that also could be brought to the floor.