House leader vows to stay in session until homeland bill is done

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Wednesday he would keep the House in session until Congress sends a homeland security bill to the White House, decreasing the odds that the House would break for the elections by Oct. 11 and increasing the likelihood of some type of lame-duck session.

"I think we ought not to leave until we have the homeland security bill," Hastert said in a brief interview. "We're going to have to come back until we get it done."

Hastert did not rule out recessing at the end of next week, but the statement puts pressure on the Senate to get beyond its impasse over homeland security, which involves how much flexibility the president should have over personnel regulations in a Homeland Security Department.

One of the many exit strategies being discussed by House leadership involves passing a series of short-term continuing resolutions after Oct. 11, with the House reconvening for one or two days each week until the homeland security bill is done.

"It's a definite possibility," said a Hastert spokesman. "We want to get the homeland security bill. The speaker wants to get it done. The president wants to get it done."

A House leadership source concurred, saying there is "not a burning desire to get out of town," especially with the Senate hung on the homeland security bill. And coming in one day a week to pass another CR or take care of some business would not distract too much from the November campaigns, this source added. But no decisions on how to proceed have been made, and options are still being mulled over.

For instance, House Republicans feel they could score politically if they follow the short-term CR route and stay in to showcase the Democratic-controlled Senate's inability to get an agreement on one of the president's priorities. They also feel they could gain politically by getting an agreement to recess until after the elections and then beat up on Senate Democrats for failing on the homeland security front.

Still, the impasse over homeland security in the Senate and the GOP reaction in the House seems to make it less likely that leaders can agree before the November elections to a long-term CR that could get them into next year. "It makes it less probable," acknowledged one House leadership source.

The uncertainties pertaining to homeland security, Iraq, possible add-ons to the CR and the likelihood that Senate Democrats would not want to do a long-term CR makes negotiating one in the next week or so difficult at best, the source said. Still, Republicans are preparing to ratchet up talks on that front to see what is possible and what is not.

"Between now and next week, we'll have to have a CR that will get us at least past the election," said House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Meanwhile, the House is expected to take up another weeklong CR Thursday, funding the government through Oct. 11. The language is likely be the same as the current CR, which expires Friday.