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Road Map: Beyond Health Care, Fall Agenda Is Crowded

Of course, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) continues to ponder ways to bypass the 60-vote threshold by using budget reconciliation rules. However, Democratic aides said last week that it was uncertain whether they could push an entire health care reform measure under rules that require every provision to have a budgetary impact.

Regardless, Senate Democrats are looking to have a bill on the floor as early as Sept. 28 in order to finish up by before a likely weeklong October recess that is expected to begin on the 9th. Under that tentative timeline, the majority would hope to have a conference report on the president’s desk before Thanksgiving.

However, the logistics are far from certain, given Senate Democrats have not yet settled on a floor strategy that will optimize their chances for success. One senior aide said if Senate leaders come up with a bill that can garner 60 votes — i.e., a bipartisan bill — the Senate would move on health care before the House. If they need to use filibuster-proof reconciliation rules to push it through, the House would likely lead off the floor debates, the aide said.

Meanwhile, the House is also in the throes of an intraparty health care debate, with Democrats divided between pro-public-option liberals and skittish moderates who, like Snowe, want a “trigger” to indefinitely delay any public insurance plan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed again last week that a bill without a public option could not pass the House, despite the White House’s movement toward a trigger.

But just because health care is all anyone wants to talk about, Democrats aren’t giving up on pushing a number of other controversial measures this fall. Reid summed up the hefty agenda in a statement provided by his office, “Senate Democrats will continue to aggressively push legislation that boosts our economy and helps working families build a better future. Key items on this list are delivering on health insurance reform and clean energy, providing jobs by improving our infrastructure, and reining in the behavior on Wall Street that contributed to the economic downturn. We also intend to pass legislation that makes college more affordable and invest in critical domestic priorities.”

This month, Reid will attempt to pass as many appropriations bills as he can before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. Democratic aides predicted that they might be able to complete three spending bills — Commerce, Justice and science; Interior and environment; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development — before the end of the month. The Senate has already passed four, while the House has passed all 12. Senate Democrats readily acknowledge they will have to pass a continuing resolution for any bills that have not been conferenced with the House or haven’t been passed by the Senate.

Congress also must pass another extension of the highway funding bill before the end of September. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) wants to pass a $500 billion long-term reauthorization, but leadership aides say that’s a long shot. The Obama administration and the Senate have signaled they don’t want to do a long-term bill until after the midterms, and rank-and-file Members are nervous about having to back another tax hike to pay for it.

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