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GOP may send members home during budget talks

Republican congressional leaders, eyeing the possibility that the annual budget battle will drag past the Oct. 6 adjournment target, are leaning toward sending rank-and-file members home to campaign while appropriators, leaders and the White House continue to negotiate, according to members of leadership and top aides. Legislators would be summoned back to the capital for the year's final votes once the negotiations were concluded, under this approach. "As far as I'm concerned, that's the approach," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told CongressDaily Wednesday, adding, "Leaders and appropriators need to stay here, but others can go home." Sources said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., also favor this approach. "It's possible to get done by Oct. 6 with cooperation from the White House, but we're not going to let them tie us up here," said a top House GOP leadership aide. "There's no reason to keep members cooped up here." "That's Lott's record," added a Senate GOP leadership aide of the idea of springing members while leaders and appropriators remain in Washington. The source continued: "He wants to keep everyone focused on getting our work done by Oct. 6, but if not, members of leadership and appropriators need to be here. Other members don't." However, some GOP leaders remain to be sold on the strategy. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Connie Mack of Florida, who is leaving Congress at the end of this year, argued it would be "counterproductive" to leave the session open indefinitely. "We want to get the people's business done, then go home," Mack said. "Hopefully, we'll wrap up either by Oct. 6 or Oct. 13." House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said no decision was written in stone, adding that another option is for authorizing committees to plow into oversight work while the budget talks wind down. Democrats said the whole question of an endgame strategy plays to their advantage. "So long as Congress isn't doing what the American public wants, it won't make any difference if they're in or not," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, while adding, "[But] the fact that they can't get their act together reinforces that they are rudderless." "I'd just like to finish off the appropriations bills and go home," said Rep. Steve Kuykendall, R-Calif., adding that surrogates and volunteers might have to pick up the slack on the campaign trail. "That's also the price you pay for being the incumbent,"said Kuykendall, who faces a tough re-election battle against former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Rep. Ernest Fletcher, R-Ky., who is locked in a tough re-election fight against former Democratic Rep. Scotty Baesler, said he would prefer a lame duck session after the election. But Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who is one of the GOP Conference's message coordinators, said: "We don't want members to be sitting here for 36 hours or 48 hours at a stretch. If we can develop a mechanism to get members home and still get our work done, we can work with that."