Senate, House to scramble before Iraq report hits in September

When Congress returns in September, both chambers will have just two weeks before the anxiously awaited report from Gen. David Petraeus on operations in Iraq puts the war front and center on its agenda.

That will be preceded by a Government Accountability Office report due out shortly before the Labor Day weekend and will be followed by debate in the Senate on its defense authorization bill.

In its first week back, the Senate will first debate President Bush's nomination of former House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, to be Office of Management and Budget director and tackle its second fiscal 2008 appropriations bill, the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure. Other spending bills are likely to follow as the Senate tries to catch up with the House, with Transportation-Housing and Urban Development most likely and action possible on the Energy and Water and State-Foreign Operations appropriations bills.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide declined to specify the timing for appropriations bills, but said they would be bills Republicans and Bush could support. A continuing resolution is likely to be needed in late September, since action on all appropriations bills likely will not be finished by the new fiscal year.

Reid hopes for a conference in September on expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, with action possible on an Food and Drug Administration reauthorization bill, a conference report on higher education legislation and perhaps another debate on stem cell legislation, which Bush vetoed earlier this year. Reid may take up the bill giving voting rights to the District of Columbia if he gets close enough to the 60 votes he would need to break a filibuster.

There likely will be committee action on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, though it is unclear when the legislation could be taken up on the floor, the aide said. Reid indicated earlier this week that he would like the full Senate to revisit the bill after the Judiciary and Intelligence committees revise and report a version of the legislation.

One of the early bills the House is expected to consider is legislation revamping the federal flood insurance program. Beyond those measures, if conferees working on higher education legislation can agree, that report would be brought to the floor.

Other likely candidates are bills overhauling the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance program. Democrats must also deal with pending free trade deals with Peru and Panama, which could be ready for votes in October.

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