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Senate Works to Pass ‘Clunker’ Bill by Break

While the confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will remain the Senate’s curtain call before the August recess, the chamber will also round out this week with a big clunk.

The Senate is scrambling to fit in a vote on a measure to add $2 billion to the popular “cash for clunkers” program, which exhausted its initial $1 billion allotment in less than one week. The legislation authorizing fresh funds for the program was passed last week by the House.

While it appears stalwart GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) won’t filibuster the measure, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a fast-track procedural motion Tuesday and is negotiating with Republicans to bring the bill to the floor.

Following a luncheon with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, Reid pledged to pass the clunkers bill “before we leave here.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also noted in a press conference Tuesday that the two sides are working out an agreement.

“What I anticipate is that it will be completed before the end of the week,” McConnell told reporters. “What we’ll be negotiating over is the appropriateness of some amendments to the bill. But I would anticipate that the matter will be completed sometime before the end of the week.”

But any amendments passed and added to the bill will require the two chambers to go to conference after the August break to work out differences in the pieces of legislation.

A spokesman for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who was initially skeptical of how effective the program will be at reducing gasoline consumption and remains critical of how the measure is paid for, said the moderate Republican will set aside those concerns to support the House bill this week.

“Sen. Collins is disappointed the House did not work to improve the bill before it recessed, but she would not do anything to jeopardize its passage in the Senate,” spokesman Kevin Kelley said.

While the agreement is being worked out, the Senate’s attention will be fixated on Sotomayor, whose nomination will be hailed and criticized in a steady stream of floor statements over the next two days. Her historic nomination has garnered well over the 51 votes needed for confirmation, and a final vote could occur today or Thursday.

A Reid spokeswoman noted the Majority Leader could interrupt debate over the Supreme Court nomination to bring up the clunkers bill and, once passed, return to Sotomayor.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) reflected that sentiment Tuesday night, declaring, “Sotomayor is the last vote.”

Left unsettled in the legislative push to get out of town will likely be the travel promotion bill heavily touted by Reid because it is viewed as a critical boost for his economically challenged home state.

While Reid hoped to resuscitate the bill, also strongly backed by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), he may run out of days this week to bring the measure to the floor.

Quipped a Republican aide Tuesday, “It looks like Reid has chosen clunkers over travel.”

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