House leaders remain unsure about lame-duck session

Second economic stimulus package could be on the agenda.

House Democratic leaders have yet to decide whether to return for a lame-duck session, waiting to see which party wins the White House and the size of their majorities in the House and Senate, senior leadership sources said Tuesday after the leaders held a conference call.

The Senate is set to return Nov. 17, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to work at that time on a second economic stimulus measure and another package of bills held by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The length of the Senate's lame-duck session remains unclear, although it would likely be short if the House did not come back.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the rest of the Democratic leadership made clear last week that they would also like to see a second economic stimulus package approved in the near term.

But the details of such a package remain up in the air and House Democratic lawmakers have not gotten any indication that they will be expected back in Washington before next year.

Senior House Democratic aides said the biggest variable in whether they return for a lame duck is if Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., wins the presidential election. Other political variables include the number of seats picked up in the House and Senate by Democrats and the Bush White House's willingness to come to terms on another stimulus package.

If Obama is elected president and Democrats make a major gain of 20 or more seats in the House while achieving a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the Senate, they could avoid compromising with Republicans on the measure until January. Alternatively, they could also put up a bigger fight on a stimulus package under an administration led by GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona with major seat gains.

An Obama win is also viewed as a large incentive to getting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement -- a Bush administration priority -- off the table before the Democrat takes office. Senior Democratic aides said Bush's wish for Colombia might be a negotiating point to get the president to sign off on a stimulus deal before he leaves office, no matter which senator wins the White House.

Ben Schneider contributed to this story.