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Democratic Ping-Pong Could Conclude This Week

With just days left in the first session of the 110th Congress, Democratic leaders have designed a complicated game of legislative ping-pong in which they'll be passing bills back and forth between the House and Senate. Beginning this afternoon, the two chambers will try to wrap up a series of deeply complicated issues - from taxes to Iraq war funds to energy - that generally would represent several months worth of work, if not more.

As Jonathan Weisman and Capitol Briefing noted in a story last week, relations between the Harry Reid Democrats in the Senate and the Nancy Pelosi Democrats in the House are testy these days. (Questioned about our story last week, Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained that Democrats were suffering from "cabin fever" from being stuck in the Capitol in so many negotiating sessions.)

This cross-Capitol tension - something Republicans themselves suffered from over 12 years of ruling the building - has made this week's endgame session particularly complicated and fraught with potential trap doors that could turn relations even more humbug-ish by Christmas Eve.

Here's a rundown of how, if all goes as planned, Democrats will wrap up things this week, probably leaving town Thursday or Friday. (Again, the "if-all-goes-as-planned" caveat is critical in this scenario, because Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) or Tom Coburn (Okla.) could always throw a wrench in the works.)

Ping 1: Today the Senate, on a 76-10 cloture vote, officially moved to consider the bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This has turned particularly controversial because of an amendment that would provide retroactive legal immunity to the telecom industry for giving information to U.S. intelligence officials earlier this decade about private individuals. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), back from the presidential trail in Iowa, is expected to take the floor at some point today or tomorrow and launch an old school, Mr. Smith-style filibuster of the bill if his amendment to strip the immunity grant from the bill fails. But his effort is not likely to succeed - rules do not allow him to sit down, he is only allowed to yield to a colleague for a question and he cannot take restroom breaks - as his staff have acknowledged he will speak for "as long as he can." Assuming this filibuster does not produce a Dodd victory, the FISA bill should pass the Senate by the middle of this week and then be sent to the House.

Pong 1: With a $515 billion omnibus-spending package unveiled last night, the House is taking up this measure possibly as early as tonight. It includes funding for every federal agency except for the Pentagon (that spending plan is the only one of the dozen appropriations bills that has been signed into law this year). After hoping to get an additional $22 billion in spending, then gunning for $11 billion more, the Democrats have pared back this bill to President Bush's overall number. But they have added some emergency funding for key programs such as veterans' funding, border security, home heating assistance and drought relief. The House Democrats, with many in their caucus unwilling to support funding for the Iraq war, will not include any Iraq funds but will include $31 billion for ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

Ping 2: Upon receiving the omnibus spending package, the Senate will then take the bill and add roughly $40 billion for the Iraq war, giving Bush a big political victory with $70 billion or more in war funds after Democrats initially said he would not get any additional money. At that poinit, Majority Leader Reid will send the amended bill back across the Capitol to the House later this week.

Pong 2: House Democrats, receiving the FISA bill, will have to swallow a bitter pill and allow a vote on the bill favored by Bush, likely leading to its passage. While they await receiving the FISA bill from the Senate, the House could likely take up a renewed package of compromise items (a fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax law preventing increased taxes on more than 20 million families and an energy bill that raises fuel efficiency standards but jettisons some provisions sought by House Democrats).

Ping 3: Once they get the omnibus back from the Senate, with the Iraq war funding they're opposed to, House Democrats will then put that spending plan back on the floor for a vote. It's possible that the mega-spending bill (by then upwards of $600 billion, give or take $10 billion here or there) will be subdivided into two separate items that are part of the same bill. This is what Pelosi did in May when Congress yielded to Bush and passed a more than $120 billion supplemental bill that included almost $100 billion in war funding. Split into two separate votes, the war funding passed overwhelmingly with GOP votes while the domestic spending money passed with overwhelmingly Democratic votes, and the entire thing was sent to Bush for his signature. Democrats have discussed possibly doing the same thing this time around. This could allow the House to close its doors by late Thursday or Friday - if all goes as planned.

Pong 3: After sending the omnibus back to the House, the Senate will then receive the compromise plans on the AMT fix and the energy bill and possibly a bill revising Medicare pricing for doctors. They would then pass these measures.

With that, the Senate could also adjourn sine die, as they say on Capitol Hill, by the end of this week and not return until the week of Jan. 14 for the 2nd session of the 110th.

If all goes as planned.

By Paul Kane  |  December 17, 2007; 2:10 PM ET
 
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Comments

Senator Dodd is on the floor as I write, heroically standing up for our Constitution. One way or another, this FISA bill extension must be defeated if it contains retroactive immunity for the telecom companies who colluded with the Bush administration to violate our privacy. I urge everyone who reads this to call your senators NOW and urge them to support Senator Dodd and oppose the FISA extension in its present form.

Posted by: Ancient_Mariner | December 17, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: votenic | December 18, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

With all due respect to Paul Kane and the Washington Post, there has been a lot of activity in the the halls of Congress the past few weeks but Capital Briefing seems to be off the air. What gives?

Posted by: Patrick Huss | December 21, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Congress is such a laughable institution. It is like a crowded beehive with too many bees stinging each other. Why don't they do something productive like make honey. I just cannot take it seriously. Here it is the end of 2007, and the war goes on. Go home, all of you yahoos! Spend your fat checks, maybe send a buck or two to a Veterans Against the War group. Be careful. Protect your anomymity. You would not want to take a position that could jeopardize your seat in 2008! Rah! Rah! The beat goes on. Yay, Nancy! Yay, Harry!!!!

Posted by: maureen murphy | December 26, 2007 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Proceedure to end the War.
If we the Christians and Budists could deal with Simple Justice the same way it is delt with in the Islamic laws. The War would be over. We could be starting the healing process today. Oh Yea! We must punish the guilty party. That would be Dick Cheney. And few others who run the Military Industrial Complex. You know of whom I speak. Just follow the Money.Our economy is based on waring for profits. We must throw them to the wolfs and let them get stoned to the death.

Posted by: Bob McCauley | December 27, 2007 4:54 AM | Report abuse

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