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Hill offices closed, but legislators plan active week

The House and Senate return to work today, in the midst of ongoing anthrax investigations, determined to conduct legislative work in order to send a message--and also to produce needed legislation.

Work begins in earnest on an economic stimulus measure, as the House prepares to take up Wednesday a $100 billion package composed mostly of tax relief, which the Ways and Means Committee passed 10 days ago. Contentious debate over substance and process is likely.

House and Senate lawmakers also plan to consider remaining appropriations bills, anti-terrorism legislation and a bioterrorism measure this week, along with other legislative initiatives--even though uncertainty remains over the availability of the House and Senate office buildings.

As the House braces for its debate on economic stimulus, the Senate clearly plans to take a different approach. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have continued talks with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill on a bipartisan plan that probably will be smaller than the House bill.

This week, it should become clear if they can agree on a single bill or go their separate ways. Senate moderates already have begun to talk about their areas of agreement and stand ready to play a brokering role.

The Senate is likely to remain stalled this week on the appropriations front, beginning with this morning's cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the fiscal 2002 Foreign Operations bill.

Republicans have been filibustering the FY02 appropriations bills that the Senate has yet to consider--Foreign Operations, Agriculture, Labor-HHS and District of Columbia--out of frustration over the delay in confirming President Bush's judicial nominees. Republican and Democratic sources both predict a replay of last week's cloture vote, which failed on a party- line vote of 50-46.

But Republicans have allowed the Senate to vote on appropriations conference reports, so the chamber could move ahead with the 11 FY02 bills that have yet to be completed. Conference reports on the FY02 Interior and Military Construction bills were adopted by both chambers last week and are awaiting the president's signature.

Although formal conference committee meetings have not yet convened on any of the six remaining appropriations bills that have passed both chambers--Commerce-Justice-State, Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, Treasury-Postal, Transportation and VA-HUD--conference reports could be filed and ready for floor votes later this week on the Energy and Water, VA-HUD and Legislative Branch bills.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled Wednesday to hold its long-delayed markup of the 13th and final FY02 appropriations bill, the Defense bill, with floor action possible before the end of the week.

Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has said he is waiting for his House counterparts to act before holding his markup.

The Defense bill also is expected to carry the second $20 billion of the $40 billion emergency terrorism supplemental Congress passed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. But, as of Monday, House GOP sources indicated that no decision had been made about when to attach the supplemental to the Defense bill-- at the full committee markup, on the floor or in conference with the Senate.

A Senate source said the Senate Appropriations Committee would amend the supplemental to the Defense bill at the full committee markup.

In addition, the Senate and House are expected this week to formally appoint conferees on an anti-terrorism bill, a "pre- conference" that the chambers completed late last week. That pre- conference agreement already has been translated into legislative language, and both chambers should approve the resulting bill this week.

Bush has indicated he would sign the bill, which would expand law enforcement powers of surveillance and information sharing.

The Senate may take up a bioterrorism bill being drafted by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., this week. It would boost funding to strengthen public health agencies' ability to detect, treat and contain bioterrorism outbreaks.

Kennedy said at a news conference Monday that he expects the initial figure to be about $2 billion, similar to the administration's request, to come out of the $40 billion emergency supplemental passed last month. Then Kennedy said an additional $4 billion to $6 billion might have to be included in a second phase of the bill.

"We need to make sure the resources will be there to do whatever we need to do," Kennedy said.

The HELP committee is holding a hearing today on medical preparedness to combat bioterrorism, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee was planning to hold a similar hearing Thursday.

On a related note, Kennedy and Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee ranking member Sam Brownback, R-Kan., may unveil a border protection measure. The two said their aim is to protect against terrorism while providing citizenship opportunities to law-abiding individuals.

Also, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has said it will propose a plan this week for restructuring the agency.

The House could take up an aviation security bill this week, although it still appears unlikely that House GOP leaders have the votes for a bill that would not mandate that baggage screeners be federal employees.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill 100-0 to federalize most screeners and give oversight authority to the Justice Department.

On education, House and Senate conferees on the elementary and secondary education bill have tentatively set a meeting for today, after several previously scheduled meetings were cancelled because of the closing of House and Senate office buildings.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is planning today to swear in the two newest members of the House, Reps.-elect Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., to fill the seats of former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough and the late Democratic Rep. Joe Moakley, respectively.

At the White House, Bush will continue focusing his attention on the response to the Sept. 11 attacks. He is likely to offer remarks on homeland security and the economic stimulus package.

Other domestic initiatives will be on the radar, but aides Monday were still firming up the president's schedule for the week.

April Fulton, Pamela Barnett, Mark Wegner and Keith Koffler contributed to this report.