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Hoyer sketches out Congressional pre-Christmas crunch

By Ben Pershing
UPDATE 2:48 PM: At a press conference to unveil their job-creation package, House Democratic leaders said they planned (House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was his "hope") to complete all their remaining work for the year Wednesday. That would mean passing the defense spending bill, a debt limit increase, a short-term continuing resolution and a jobs package all in one day. Several lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are scheduled to leave for the climate change talks in Copenhagen as soon as the House ends its session.

ORIGINAL ITEM: With the remaining days of 2009 ticking away, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) on Tuesday laid out Democrats' strategy for finishing their work on key legislation and getting out of town.

House leaders hope that their chamber will be able to adjourn by the end of this week, and before then, they plan to bring forward and pass four separate pieces of legislation: a $626 billion defense appropriations bill with a host of other measures attached to it; a continuing resolution to keep the Pentagon funded through Dec. 23 or 24, enough time for the Senate to complete its work; a standalone increase in the federal debt ceiling, likely high enough to get the Treasury Department through February; and a job-creation bill.

That quartet of measures has come together in recent days as the product of marathon discussions between the House and Senate, mostly centered on what the latter chamber can realistically accomplish given its procedural rules and its current focus on health care. The Senate is not expected to take up the jobs package this year, but it is likely to approve the other three measures the House plans to deliver this week.

The debt limit has been the biggest sticking point. Negotiations are ongoing on the possibility of a mammoth debt limit increase -- a $1.8 trillion boost that would cover all of 2010 -- but Hoyer made clear he expects a smaller increase to become law, as there is almost no time left to convince members to support a larger package.

The defense measure will be on the House floor Wednesday, and Hoyer said it would include two-month extensions of the following pieces of legislation:

• an adjustment of Medicare's "Sustainable Growth Rate," which determines how much money doctors get paid under the program;

• the USA Patriot Act;

• the bill that governs how federal highway and infrastructure funds are spent;

• the law governing the transmission of broadcast signals to customers of satellite television providers (this extension will likely be for 90 days);

• federal flood insurance;

• Small Business Administration loan programs;

• unemployment insurance;

• and COBRA health insurance.

The measure will also carry extra money for food stamps and for a programs that helps states pay for Medicaid programs.

"That's where we currently are," Hoyer said, adding that discussions were ongoing on a handful of other items. The two chambers have yet to decide how to handle the estate tax, which is scheduled to disappear completely on Jan. 1 if Congress doesn't act. It's also unclear whether the Senate will take up a package of tax extenders already passed by the House.

The jobs package, meanwhile, will be "in the neighborhood of $75 billion," Hoyer said, and will include funding for infrastructure and to help states avoid laying off public service personnel. The Senate has no plans to take the measure up, but House Democrats are determined to pass it anyway to lay down a marker in the debate.

When will the House finish its work? Leaders would like to get everything wrapped up by Wednesday evening -- particularly since some members plan to travel to the climate change conference in Copenhagen -- but members have been told that a Saturday session could happen, as could more action early next week.

Hoyer declined to be specific, saying he hoped to finish "within the next few days" but later allowing that it's "possible" the House will be in session this weekend or early next week. Much depends on the Senate's assent to simply pass what the House sends over (except for the jobs package) without making any changes.

Hoyer meets with reporters every Tuesday, and he told the assembled scribes he would prefer not to see them next week. "I hesitate to say this is my last pen and pad of the year, but that would be my wish," he said.

By Ben Pershing  |  December 15, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , House , Purse Strings  
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