House, Senate look to wrap up 109th Congress next week

Neither chamber appears to have the appetite to finish outstanding spending measures this year.

Members of the House and Senate might cast the last votes of the 109th Congress -- and the Republicans' congressional majority -- next week as they attempt to wrap up the year's work on tax items and confirm a successor to outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while leaving unfinished fiscal 2007 spending bills for next year.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said adjournment for the year depends on "completing all necessary work, with the goal of being done next week." Neither the House nor the Senate appear to have the appetite to finish outstanding appropriations measures this year, and both chambers have tentatively agreed to punt them to the new Democratic majority next year.

Both chambers are expected to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running into next year, and sources reported it is likely to extend to Feb. 15. Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol are then expected to leave town, one week earlier than previously anticipated.

The House is expected to convene Tuesday morning with suspension votes scheduled later in the day. During the week, the House is expected to take up the CR and a tax extender package that is expected to include a provision to fend off a cut in Medicare physician payments. House leaders on Thursday also were considering bringing up an offshore energy production bill next week.

The Senate returns Monday to formally receive the nomination of Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld. The Armed Services Committee is expected to begin hearings Tuesday and the Senate could vote on his nomination as early as the end of the week.

"The goal is to get him confirmed by week's end," a top aide to outgoing Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Thursday. If the Senate is unable to confirm Gates next week, Frist could call senators back for a brief session the following week.

On Tuesday, senators are expected to resume debate on the fiscal 2007 Agriculture spending measure under a previously agreed upon unanimous consent agreement. Other goals for the week include tax extenders as well as a conference report on a U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement and the U.S.-Vietnam trade deal.

"For many of these items, it will take more time to talk about all of them than it will take to act on them, but with a little bit of elbow grease and good will, the Senate can transact business on a wide swath of bills before it adjourns," said Frist's aide. Frist, who is retiring at the end of this year, is scheduled to deliver his farewell speech next week.

The outgoing majority leader announced Wednesday he would not run for president in 2008 and instead plans to return to practicing medicine.