The death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) on Monday has scuttled the schedule for Senate Democrats and has made life even tougher for Majority Leader Harry Reid as the Nevadan struggles to complete financial reform and jobs bills.
Democratic leaders have been thwarted numerous times in recent weeks on jobs legislation, despite scaling down the measure dramatically after Republicans and some moderate Democrats balked at adding to the deficit.
Byrds death makes passage of any significant spending plan, such as a $50 billion state aid package pushed by President Barack Obama, even dicier.
Moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) wants Reid to bring up a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, minus state aid or tax provisions, before the break.
It was still uncertain, leadership aides said, whether Byrd would lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, and if so when that would take place. If Byrds funeral occurs this week, it would throw off virtually all of the chambers business, including timing of floor votes and committee meetings.
One definite this week: the Senate confirmation of Gen. David Petraeus as the replacement for Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander in Afghanistan, though Byrds death could delay completion of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagans hearings.
With a House-Senate conference report completed late last week, Democratic leaders had hoped to send their financial reform package to Obamas desk before the July Fourth recess, but now they have to hunt to find the 60th vote to cut off a likely GOP filibuster.
Reids lift got perceptibly heavier Monday evening when Feingold announced that he would still not vote for the financial reform bill. And Moderate Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who backed the bill initially, has warned he might oppose it over a tax on banks that was added in conference.
Failure to get 60 votes would delay the bill until West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) names a replacement for Byrd. Heading into the break, Democrats are certain to blast Republicans for blocking the measure to rein in Wall Street.
In the meantime, the House is expected to quickly pass the financial reform package while trying to find the votes for a long-delayed war supplemental. Democratic leaders for weeks have struggled to find the right mix for domestic and war spending to appease both the liberal and conservative wings of their Caucus.
Democratic leaders also face competing demands from anti-war lawmakers who want separate votes on war spending and fiscally conservative lawmakers who prefer the cover of the war for the domestic agenda items. Leadership is also under pressure from conservative Democrats, just as it is in the Senate, to find offsets for domestic spending items.
Anti-war lawmakers, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) are pressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for a vote on an Afghanistan exit strategy amendment.
The supplemental could also carry a stripped-down budget blueprint that House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) said last week will cut spending $7 billion below Obamas request in fiscal 2011. That budget plan has been shorn of trillion-dollar deficit estimates because moderate and vulnerable lawmakers dont want to vote for more debt before the November elections.