Senate leader lists defense bill among early priorities

President Bush unexpectedly vetoed the defense authorization measure last month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Tuesday named the economic stimulus package, changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the tweaked fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill as immediate priorities for the Senate, stressing FISA must be finished this week and that defense authorization could be finished as early as Monday.

"We'll be as agreeable as we can be to get this done, hopefully today," Reid said of the defense authorization. President Bush unexpectedly vetoed the measure last month over a provision involving lawsuits against the Iraqi government. Reid, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House leaders, met with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Monday afternoon to discuss economic stimulus plans before heading to the White House to meet with Bush.

Acknowledging the economy's sudden leap to the head of the legislative agenda, Reid said he spoke with Paulson "eight or nine times" while the Senate was in recess.

"Last year, the subprime lending issue was not part of our mantra. Now it is," he said.

Reid and McConnell made pleas for bipartisanship on the Senate floor this morning, which they argued will be necessary if the Senate is to have major legislative achievements this year. After noting that this year's elections will be sure to keep senators busy, Reid reminded his colleagues of the benefits of completing work on bills.

"If we accomplish things here, there's credit to go around to Democrats and Republicans; everyone can claim credit for what we did. If we aren't able to pass legislation, there's blame to go around for everyone," he said.

McConnell echoed those sentiments. "We face a number of urgent challenges domestically and internationally. And there will be a strong temptation to politicize them or put them off as the current administration comes to a close and a new one prepares to take its place," he said. "This would be an irresponsible path, and it's one we should not take. We've had a presidential election in this country every four years since 1788. We won't use this one as an excuse to put off the people's business for another day."

Further down the line, Reid listed energy legislation and patent reform as priorities for the current work period. Reid named children's health insurance, the intelligence authorization bill conference report and further action on the Iraq War as issues he will focus on this session. Republicans will meet Wednesday at the Library of Congress to discuss their legislative priorities for the year, with the economy sure to top that list.