Defense spending bill could delay Senate recess

Senate leaders are attempting to reach a deal to wrap up debate on the fiscal 2005 defense reauthorization bill.

Senate Republicans are discussing the possibility of postponing the July Fourth recess in order to complete work on the fiscal 2005 Defense appropriations bill, as part of Majority Leader Bill Frist's, R-Tenn., larger effort to set the Senate schedule through the end of July.

At this point, Frist said he does not plan to delay the recess. But if he brings the Defense spending bill to the floor next week -- as has been discussed during leadership meetings -- he would not break for the recess until the bill is done.

"If I take up [Defense] spending, we'll stay until it's finished," Frist said. "But it's too early to tell what we're going to do [next week]."

Senators and GOP aides had downplayed the likelihood of taking up the Defense spending bill before the recess, arguing it would be difficult to finish the bill in a few days. They noted that the Senate typically avoids splitting debate on the high priority spending bill over a recess. But one senior GOP leadership aide questioned that thinking. "Who says it's a hard and fast rule? Who says we can't finish it, and who says the recess will start on time?" the aide declared.

Talk of a recess delay comes as Frist, Minority Leader Tom Daschle, S-S.D., and other Senate leaders are attempting to reach a deal to wrap up debate on the fiscal 2005 defense reauthorization bill. Although Frist Wednesday evening filed a cloture motion on that bill, it is unclear whether he has enough backing to cut off debate during Friday's scheduled vote. If a deal can be worked out between the leaders to place a time limit on the defense reauthorization bill, Frist would likely forgo the cloture vote.

It remains unclear what legislation the Senate will take up next. Although Frist has previously said that he would move directly to a class action bill, the timing on that measure could slip, a source in Frist's office said. Because debate on the defense reauthorization bill could go until the middle of next week, according to the source, taking up the class action bill for one or two days would make little sense.

Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, could have the fiscal 2005 Defense spending package ready to go by midweek -- if Frist decides to remain in session to finish that bill -- which also would bump the class action measure. Frist also faces pressure to bring the gay marriage constitutional amendment to the floor, tentatively set for the week of July 12. The amendment is a priority for social conservatives and the White House, which is keen to have a vote before the Democratic National Convention begins July 26. As a result, Frist has been forced to juggle the need to move appropriations bills and his commitment to move the gay marriage ban, significantly squeezing an already tight legislative calendar for July.

In the House, GOP leaders may bring up budget enforcement legislation next Thursday, although no agreement has been reached between Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., on the scope of the bill. The House will consider the Defense and Energy and Water fiscal 2005 appropriations bills, according to GOP leadership aides, and may consider intelligence reauthorization as well. If the House does not complete work on the Homeland Security appropriations bill this week, that would be the first order of business Monday. A leadership aide said the House would adjourn for its July 4 recess as scheduled at the end of next week.