Spending bills are filling the Senate's fall calendar

With healthcare legislation likely to remain in committee for much of September, the Senate will spend the bulk of the month trying to pass most of 12 fiscal 2010 funding bills by the fiscal year's end.

"Our druthers would be that we came back and jumped right into health care, but we're not going to be able to do that," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week. "So when we come back we're going to start on appropriations bills again."

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has set a mid-September deadline for reaching a deal with committee Republicans on a healthcare overhaul bill, but senators have already said the date could slip, and the panel must then mark up the measure.

Democrats will use the time to pass as many fiscal 2010 funding bills as possible through regular order rather than through a short-term continuing resolution and, eventually, an omnibus spending bill.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said either the fiscal 2010 Interior-Environment or Justice-Commerce-Science funding bill could be up first in September. The fiscal 2010 Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills could move in September, though no decision has been made, Senate aides said.

The Senate has passed fiscal 2010 Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, Energy and Water, and Agriculture bills. House and Senate staffers will preconference those measures in August, appropriations committee members said.

Reid said he hopes to complete four of eight remaining fiscal 2010 appropriations bills before Oct. 1.

That means at least four spending bills, including the largest, the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, will probably not pass by the end of the fiscal year, leaving Congress to extend funding for affected government agencies through a continuing resolution.

Democratic and Republican appropriators acknowledge that despite the hopes of both parties, a large omnibus is becoming more likely. Some GOP appropriators last week expressed frustration with that prospect.

"It looks like it's bogging down, which is unfortunate," Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said. "I wish we could accelerate the pace. I know Sen. Inouye is trying to do what he can and others, too, but we need to move it along, we are running out of time."

Immediately after returning from recess, the Senate is set to hold a cloture vote on a bill to promote travel to the United States. Democrats in June were unable to end debate on the bill because of a dispute over amendments. The measure is a priority for Reid, whose home state of Nevada relies on tourism.

A Senate leadership aide said Reid plans to take up Senate the proposal of Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to overhaul food safety laws and increase the FDA's power over recalls. A similar measure passed the House last month.

Legislation to extend funding for unemployment insurance benefits is also on the Senate's September agenda. Lawmakers fear the benefits could run out for many Americans who have lost jobs during the recession.

Reid remains publicly committed to attempting to move climate-change legislation this year. But the bill is in line behind health care and will need adjustment to pass. Democrats appear well short of the votes to pass the House version of the bill.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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