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Senate Plans Earlier Recess

That, and a handful of other disputes, prevented the Labor-HHS measure from hitting the House floor, and aides said privately that it may not pass before the November elections.

Beyond appropriations, the House could conceivably deal with the remaining legislative priorities faster than the Senate could, since bills rarely take more than a day or two to pass the House once they hit the floor, whereas contentious measures in the Senate easily can eat up a week or more.

Unlike the past several stretches of work in the Senate, Frist is hoping to focus less on divisive political issues such as gay marriage and more on bread-and-butter legislation with a heavy emphasis on national security and defense spending, as well as economic issues, a senior leadership aide said.

Frist wants to “give Members something to take home” during the upcoming August recess and the October lead-up to Election Day. However, with both Frist and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) looking to complete new legislation governing terrorist-suspect tribunals as soon as possible, partisans in both camps will still get a chance to lob political bombs from the floor this month.

The Senate also will finally take up controversial stem-cell research legislation, which has been a lightning rod for partisan attacks. The issue also has prompted deep splits within the GOP between social conservatives and many others in the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, much of this month’s floor schedule will be built around the appropriations process, with the Homeland Security spending bill leading off this week. Frist also would like to wrap up the Defense and the military construction-Veterans Affairs spending bills as soon as possible, although it is unclear how many of those measures — not to mention any other spending bills in the pipeline — can be finished before the August break.

Although shaving off the extra week in October from the Senate schedule likely would increase pressure on appropriators, Senate leaders are not looking to force Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to move an early omnibus package in September or to deviate significantly from the traditional legislative process.

While a continuing resolution will be necessary to avoid a government shutdown, Frist hopes to have the bulk of the spending measures far enough along so the Senate can devote most of the week and a half in November it is to be in session to pushing through conference reports.

At the same time, Frist is hoping to tackle a number of kitchen-table economic issues during July and September, the leadership aide said. For instance, as soon as this week, a special energy task force Frist put together earlier this year to produce a new energy bill that targets consumer prices could wrap up work on its legislative proposal.

Frist and Hastert also have reportedly discussed finishing up a bill on sexual predators by July 27, the anniversary of the disappearance of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh’s child. Frist also plans to revive his small-business health plans as part of this economic push and will attempt to cast the fight over an extension of the estate tax repeal in an economic light by arguing that it is a jobs-creation measure.

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