A Summer Sprint For Congress

Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess and begins an arduous sprint to the longer summer break when most lawmakers will turn their full attention to the fall elections. But there is still a lot of work to do, especially in the Senate, and much of it will not be easy. Democratic leaders are hoping to complete legislation to overhaul the nation’s financial regulatory system. The House has already approved the bill but Senate Democrats are still pulling together the 60 votes they need to close up debate. With one Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, opposing the bill and a successor not yet named for the late Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the Democrats need three Republicans to join them in advancing the regulatory measure.

United States Capitol

Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess and begins an arduous sprint to the longer summer break when most lawmakers will turn their full attention to the fall elections. But there is still a lot of work to do, especially in the Senate, and much of it will not be easy.

Democratic leaders are hoping to complete legislation to overhaul the nation’s financial regulatory system. The House has already approved the bill but Senate Democrats are still pulling together the 60 votes they need to close up debate.

With one Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, opposing the bill and a successor not yet named for the late Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the Democrats need three Republicans to join them in advancing the regulatory measure.

So far, only Senator Susan Collins of Maine has signaled her support. Other Republicans who voted in favor of an earlier version of the bill were Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. Democrats say they expect to cobble together the needed votes, but the timing remains uncertain.

In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin III has convened a special session of the state legislation to clarify the succession law. Mr. Manchin is eyeing his own bid for Mr. Byrd’s seat in a potential special election later this year. In the mean time, he will likely name an interim replacement. But until he does, efforts by Senate Democrats to approve an extension of unemployment benefits are likely to be put on hold.

Party leaders have been at an angry standoff over the jobless benefits for weeks now, with Republicans blocking various Democratic proposals.

The majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, is also aiming to wrap up work on a bill that would provide some tax breaks and increase lending to small businesses. The Senate voted before the recess to cut off debate on that measure and Mr. Reid took procedural steps to block further amendments. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats in voting to end debate on the small business bill, indicating it should have enough support to win approval.

The Senate may also take up an emergency military spending bill adopted by the House just before the Independence Day break. House Democrats, needing to win support for the bill from liberal lawmakers who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, added billions of dollars in domestic spending, including $10 billion intended to help state and local school districts avert more than 100,000 teacher layoffs.

But some fiscally conservative Senate Democrats have voiced opposition to the money for teacher jobs, which would be generated partly by cutting $800 million from some of the Obama administration’s favored education initiatives including the competitive grant program called Race to the Top. Although the $800 million is a relatively small sum, the White House reacted furiously to the House maneuver, and even issued a veto threat.

The House is expected to take up legislation to codify federal rules on telework that would allow eligible government employees to work remotely up to 20 percent of the time.  But mostly the House is waiting for action by the Senate. House leaders hope to finish up by July 30 to let lawmakers head home to campaign.

The Senate is scheduled to be in session through the first week of August, but Mr. Reid is said to be considering a plan to stay another week given the recent delays. Given the outrage over the Gulf oil spill, Mr. Reid is hoping to take up an energy bill. And the Senate must still vote on Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled the committee vote on Ms. Kagan’s confirmation for Tuesday.

Source : thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com