Lawmakers face big agenda, tight calendar

Lawmakers return next week to face one of the most ambitious legislative agendas on record, with Democrats hoping in the next six months to pass the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, overhaul the U.S. healthcare and financial regulatory systems and perhaps craft an immigration bill.

The Senate agenda includes taking up a House-passed energy bill that would address global warming and confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

The upcoming five-week work period for the Senate and four-week stint for the House will clarify whether plans to move all those bills this year are realistic.

The Senate hopes to move quickly next week to wrap up the $3.1 billion Legislative Branch spending bill, then turn to the $42.9 billion Homeland Security bill and the defense authorization measure or another appropriations bill, before starting to consider a healthcare measure pieced together by the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he plans to find time to get Sotomayor confirmed before the Senate's scheduled Aug. 7 departure. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin confirmation hearings July 13.

If senators meet Reid's schedule and make progress on health care before going home for the summer break, the chamber would be on pace to tackle much of the Democratic agenda this year. But each step is littered with hurdles and ripe for procedural delays, which could push a number of initiatives into the fall or next year.

As a backstop, Senate aides said on Thursday that leaders are considering shortening the August recess to give the Senate more time to deliberate.

In the House, Democratic leaders hope to deal with healthcare reform legislation and wrap up work on the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills before leaving for the August recess. At some point in the coming weeks, wrangling over a multiyear transportation authorization bill will intensify. The existing law expires Sept. 30.

The $22.9 billion Agriculture bill, $48.8 billion State-Foreign Operations measure and $77.9 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill are scheduled for the House floor next week, according to a spokesman for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

One wild card is whether Republicans continue procedural maneuvers to delay votes in protest of the amendment process. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he and Hoyer have talked, but that Republicans will continue to insist on a more-open process.

The fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization act is expected on the House floor next week.

While health care will dominate the longer-term agenda, the surface transportation bill will also need to be dealt with in some form.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., has released a $500 billion proposal for a new six-year bill. But the Obama administration, citing a shortage of money, wants Congress to draft an 18-month version.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also has left the door open for immigration reform, but continues to emphasize the Senate must act first.

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