House and Senate face full plate of spending bills next week

Republican leaders have scheduled the House to be in session Tuesday through Friday next week in anticipation that conferees working on fiscal 2004 appropriations, energy and defense bills will soon complete their reports.

Speaking about the schedule earlier this week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the House would reconvene Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. for morning hour and 2 p.m. for legislative business, including a series of bills on the suspension calendar. Any roll call votes would be postponed until 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

DeLay said the House Wednesday and the rest of the week would take up the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act, and expected conference reports for an energy package and the Defense Department authorization bill.

He also noted the House could take up the four pending appropriations conference reports, including the Military Construction, Energy and Water, Interior and Labor-HHS spending bills.

The House will likely have to pass another continuing resolution next week to fund the federal government after the current CR expires Oct. 31. Although the House Tuesday passed a CR until Nov. 7, it includes "placeholder" language that will serve as the vehicle for a conference on an omnibus appropriations package.

A decision about the length of the next CR has not been made, one source said today. DeLay cautioned members to expect votes next Friday, which is Halloween. "And hopefully, even if we work on that day, we can let members out in time to go trick or treating," he said.

After the expected passage of the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill tonight, the Senate will attempt to tackle the remaining spending bills either separately or as a package next week.

Senate GOP leaders did not file cloture Wednesday on the District of Columbia appropriations bill, as they had earlier considered, leaving work on that bill until at least next week. GOP leaders would have been unlikely to shut off debate on that bill while it contained language on school vouchers, and so will put off its efforts for now.

"There's not really a big advantage to doing it [filing cloture]," said a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. "Democrats will spin it as a process vote, not a D.C. vote," she said.

The GOP leadership is also optimistic they will have an energy conference report in hand by the end of next week, and vote on a judicial nomination and possibly an omnibus spending bill or a new continuing resolution to keep the government open past Oct. 31.

They still must pass VA-HUD, Commerce-Justice-State, Agriculture, and foreign aid spending bills, some of which are trickier than others, aides acknowledged. Senate GOP leaders may also file cloture on President Bush's "healthy forests initiative," as Democrats have objected to agreements to bring it to the floor so far.