House stalls, Senate plows on through budget bills

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, announced Monday afternoon that the House would not be in session this week for votes, after it became clear that an energy conference report would not be ready for a scheduled floor vote Thursday.

One GOP aide noted Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had promised to give 48-hour notice before a tentatively scheduled energy bill conference committee meeting would convene. However, the aide said Domenici, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin each have outstanding issues that have forced a delay. "It just wasn't going to work out with the House schedule this week," the GOP aide said.

Congressional Republicans hope to adjourn this session on or near Nov. 21. Next week's House schedule has not been set, but the delay would mean an even more compressed floor calendar next week if the House is to wrap up work before Thanksgiving on energy, fiscal 2004 appropriations and a Medicare prescription drug bill.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, made good on their threat to protest a decision by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to keep the chamber in session Veterans Day and to schedule a 30-hour debate on judges later in the week by slowing consideration of appropriations bills.

Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to talk about job creation and the fiscal 2004 Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill for "four or five hours" as part of a "one-man show" to draw attention to what Democrats say is unfair treatment by the majority. Senate GOP leaders had originally indicated votes on the Commerce-Justice-State spending bill could be held early Monday afternoon, but it seemed unlikely any votes would be held until at least 6 p.m. because of Reid's actions.

"It's inappropriate that we are not going to be able to work through this week," Reid said, adding that he had been told the judicial nominations debate was scheduled to deliver a message to the GOP base. "This is being done for reasons that I don't think are the focus of the Senate," Reid charged. When a visibly angry Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., tried to get Reid to yield for a question, Reid declined.

Defending the decision to spend debate time on judicial nominations, Frist said Democrats "minimize the importance of our judiciary system." He also said Republicans have many options to explore once Reid stops talking today, including pulling the Commerce-Justice-State bill and moving to pass relatively less controversial legislation like the defense authorization bill, the Military Construction spending conference report, VA-HUD spending bill or the Syria accountability bill.

Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the floor to react to comments Reid made Friday calling the GOP leadership's scheduling of the judicial debate an "amateur" move. McConnell noted Democrats failed to pass a fiscal 2003 budget when they were in the majority and held over nearly all of the appropriations bills until this year. "That's what's amateur-not doing your job and blaming someone else," said McConnell.