Legislative logjam could leave agencies in the lurch

A continuing resolution to fund agencies in the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 is on the list of unfinished legislation.

A logjam of issues is threatening to block the exits and keep Congress in session beyond the scheduled Sept. 26 adjournment and might require a lame-duck session, leaders and aides said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned that if the Senate does not finish work on a lengthy list of legislation by Sept. 26, the Senate would either have to work into the last weekend of the month or reconvene Oct. 1.

The Senate would not meet that Monday or Tuesday because of Rosh Hashanah. "Everyone that holds things up must be very, very careful that they're not holding up our getting out of here on the time that we should," Reid said.

Reid has said he hoped to avoid a post-election return but Thursday signaled he was open to a lame-duck session to deal with the economy, something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said might be needed.

"If there is work to be done that we can't complete here, we have to come back later and I have no problem with that," he said.

Reid's to-do list includes four energy bills, tax extenders, an economic stimulus package and a continuing resolution to fund the government in the new fiscal year. Working through that list could be difficult if Reid and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., can't agree to avoid a cloture vote and reduce debate time on a package of bills that Coburn has blocked. Absent a deal, the Senate would vote Friday on Reid's motion to invoke cloture. Reid also said he would consider moving the continuing resolution and the stimulus plan as one bill. House leaders are also pushing that approach.

The House is not expected to be in session Friday and will take up the continuing resolution as early as Tuesday. Pelosi said President Bush's opposition made a broader economic stimulus unworkable.

"Let's face it. We can only have a stimulus package if the president is willing to sign one," said Pelosi. "We'll see what we can do in the CR on some of these issues and we will go from there."

Democratic leadership sources said an unemployment-insurance extension and low-income energy assistance are strong contenders for the package. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has expressed the potential for GOP support on those issues. But House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Thursday continued Republican calls for passing an energy package with a modified message that such legislation could stimulate the economy.

"The best way we can stimulate the economy is to do something serious on energy," said Boehner. Democratic leaders were mum about what else might be on the House floor next week, although Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said credit card legislation aimed at curbing questionable industry practices would come up for a vote. Frank said he expects a vote on a seven-month extension of the federal flood-insurance program.