Lawmakers will focus on spending bills next week

By Dan Friedman and Billy House

September 24, 2009

Next week's congressional agenda will have a familiar look: Off-the-floor work on health care will continue in the Capitol and lawmakers from both chambers will focus on appropriations measures as the fiscal year winds down.

Lawmakers have until Wednesday night to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running when fiscal 2010 starts next Thursday. The one-month CR eyed by the Senate would, in theory, give lawmakers in that chamber time to finish work on the fiscal 2010 spending bills. But with Democrats hoping to bring a version of the healthcare overhaul measure to the floor within a few weeks, additional extensions will likely be needed.

The one-month CR is attached to the fiscal 2010 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. The bill also contains provisions to extend to Oct. 31 various federal programs set to expire.

It was unclear if the Senate would take up separate three-month FAA and highway extension bills.

The continuing resolution also includes a provision to allow the Postal Service to cover a budget shortfall to reduce a payment designed to prefund retiree health benefits and it extends restrictions on using federal funds to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Senate Democrats also hope to take up an fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill next week if they have time. Getting to that bill might depend on how far the Senate gets on the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill in a week shortened by Monday's recess for Yom Kippur. The Senate will start work on that bill as early as this afternoon, but debates over the war in Afghanistan and the Obama administration's proposed overhaul of the European missile defense system could stretch out the floor time needed to move it.

The House will take up conference reports on a handful of spending bills next week if House and Senate differences over earmarks can be resolved, Democratic leaders said Thursday. The House wants earmarks that are directed to for-profit entities to be competitively bid, while the Senate does not.

Floor action in both chambers will continue to be overshadowed by the healthcare debate and machinations designed to bring bills to the floor soon. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he believes a health bill could be on the floor by the end of next week. While that timetable appears unlikely, it is clear Democrats want to move the bill as soon as possible, with one of the unknowns being how long it will take CBO to score a bill once versions crafted by the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees are merged.

In the House, Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said leaders were continuing to push toward having a single bill, crafted from the work of three committees, drafted by the end of next week and ready for the floor soon after. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was more cautious. When asked if a bill would be ready to be posted on the Internet next week, she said, "I don't know. We'll see."

By Dan Friedman and Billy House

September 24, 2009