Spending bills are on Congress’ agenda for September

Most agencies will likely be funded through a stopgap measure that will carry them over into 2009.

Energy and appropriations are likely to surge to the fore when Congress returns in September, with packages unveiled by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of 10" and separately by House members as potential starting points on energy legislation.

While House Republicans have continued to push during the recess for a vote on expanding domestic oil and gas drilling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has shown no sign of allowing it. But current restrictions on offshore drilling expire Sept. 30, so the issue will have to be addressed.

An aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated the Senate is likely to return to many of the bills Republicans blocked in the summer in retaliation for an impasse over amendments proposed to the oil speculation bill.

One priority will be to pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations through the remainder of the fiscal year and into 2009. Earlier in the month, Reid said he did not want to keep the Senate in session beyond Oct. 1 to accommodate the campaign needs of senators, but he has since hinted he may need to extend the session a bit longer.

Energy tax extenders legislation, which Reid has indicated is something he believes the Senate must pass this year, is a possibility for September. Other bills that could return to the Senate floor next month include the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill and the package of bills that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has blocked.

Defense, Military Construction-VA and Homeland Security appropriations bills, an economic stimulus bill and legislation to grant the Food and Drug Administration new power to regulate tobacco are likely.

When the House returns it is expected to address a second stimulus package along with legislation to extend expiring tax breaks, guarantee mental health benefits parity, ensure that the District of Columbia complies with the recent Supreme Court ruling on handgun possessions, and patch the alternative minimum tax.