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.
Byrd's 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 Byrd's funeral occurs this week, it would throw off virtually all of the chamber's 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 Byrd's death could delay completion of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's hearings.
With a House-Senate conference report completed late last week, Democratic leaders had hoped to send their financial reform package to Obama's desk before the July Fourth recess, but now they have to hunt to find the 60th vote to cut off a likely GOP filibuster.
Reid's 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 Obama's request in fiscal 2011. That budget plan has been shorn of trillion-dollar deficit estimates because moderate and vulnerable lawmakers don't want to vote for more debt before the November elections.
Rules ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) said it's not hard to see why Democrats don't want to pass a budget.
"A real, transparent budget would further expose, in black and white, their reckless spending policies and the long-term deficits that are the inevitable result," he said in a statement Monday.
But Democrats have countered that the Republican budget blueprint put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would slash spending on Social Security and Medicare. "The only budget they have out there privatizes social security and ends Medicare as we know it," a Democratic leadership aide said. "I don't think that's a winning message for the GOP."
And the aide contended that Republicans would play a price for blocking the Democrats' jobs agenda. "When millions of Americans are in need of help, it will be tough to explain why they don't want to close tax loopholes that promote sending jobs overseas," the aide said.
But House appropriators aren't waiting for a budget. Five House subcommittees are getting spending bills ready to come to the floor after the July Fourth break.
And in a sign of the growing friction on Afghanistan, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, said Monday that she would slice Obama's request for $4 billion for Afghanistan from the fiscal 2011 bill over concerns about corruption.
"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists," Lowey said in a statement.