Spending bills will top Senate agenda, likely through weekend

The Senate is on course to spend the weekend working through an omnibus appropriations bill and will return to the health debate next week as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tries to get to a vote before Christmas.

The House will deal with an amended fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that will be used as one of two "minibus" spending bills before leaving for the holidays on Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

The Senate's focus on appropriations comes during a lull in action on health care as Democrats await CBO numbers on provisions that will replace the public option. The Senate has not voted on an amendment since Tuesday and new votes may not occur until next week.

Weekend consideration of the omnibus spending bill will allow a floor vote early next week. The weekend work is necessary because Republicans refused to agree to waive procedural steps that would have automatically allowed the bill to come up next week.

The Senate is expected to resume voting on healthcare overhaul amendments next week, including a vote on a closely watched measure to allow reimportation of drugs from Canada, which backers said has the votes to pass. Many other amendments are pending.

But the Senate likely will have to move off health care again before next Friday, when a continuing resolution funding federal programs expires. The Senate could vote on the minibus that the House will vote on, but appears more likely to take up another short-term continuing resolution that will extend funding of federal programs for a matter of weeks.

Reid said on Thursday he hopes to pass the Defense spending bill by the end of the year.

Pelosi said the Defense bill will include an increase in the statutory debt ceiling and a package of job-creation provisions. The jobs package is likely to include an extension of unemployment benefits, changes in food stamp benefits and a health insurance program for those who lose their jobs, tax breaks for small businesses and possibly money that state and local governments could use to help avoid laying off public employees. She added that an infrastructure component might be added.

Pelosi did not have details of costs or a figure for the new debt ceiling. The House has already acted to increase the ceiling from $12.1 trillion to $13 trillion. But the Senate is contemplating a higher ceiling.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, complained that Democrats "have made a habit of taking the defense appropriations bills -- bills that fund the support of our troops -- and adding on there the most distasteful things they can think of, trying to get them passed on the backs of our soldiers."

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