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Congress Pursues Extenders Accord

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Although lawmakers hope to wrap up by the end of the week, Boehner declined to say whether the House will leave town without an extenders bill being passed by the Senate. “I think we’re going to have to wait until a little later in the week to see what the Senate is going to do,” the GOP leader said.

Aides to Reid and Senate Democratic
Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who runs Senate Democrats’ messaging operations, did not respond to several requests for comment.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is actively working against the extenders package bill and has promised that House Democrats will not help the GOP pass the plan.

Nevertheless, Republicans picked up their first Democrat to straggle across party lines Monday. Rep. Dan Boren said the addition of the pipeline, which would run through his state of Oklahoma, sealed his vote over the weekend, and he might try to convince more Blue Dog Democrats like himself to support the bill.

“I voted to repeal the health care bill, so that’s not an issue,” said Boren, who is retiring after this term.

The sticking points with the GOP’s extenders package goes beyond the oil-sands pipeline. Republicans also have suggested a major overhaul of the unemployment insurance program, which would grant much more leniency and authority to the states while also creating a mandate for high school equivalency testing programs and allowing states to make aid contingent upon passing drug tests.

The bill does not provide extra funds at the federal level or to the states to assist unemployed Americans without high school diplomas either to enroll in GED courses or even to take the test, which costs an average of $75 nationwide.

A similar unemployment program overhaul passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee last May along party lines, and even Senate Republican aides have questioned whether such major changes could be implemented in a matter of days, despite acknowledgment from both parties that reforms are necessary.

Senate Democratic leaders are preparing a year-end package of their own to counter the legislation that House Republican leaders introduced Friday.

House and Senate appropriators worked through the weekend on a package of nine bills to keep the government funded. Barring something unforseen, a Thursday vote is expected in the House.

Appropriators were fine-tuning their differences Monday. Conferees had been expected to file the conference report Monday evening, but they are now expected to file the package Tuesday.

Negotiations over policy riders were the principal hang-up. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) was insisting on a provision that would undo Obama’s relaxation of long-standing travel restrictings to Cuba, keeping the financial services and general government spending bill in flux, Democrats said.

“We don’t know if that’s going to be one of the riders that holds up,” said Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the subcommittee. “There are outstanding issues all over the place.”

Rep. Jim Moran, ranking member on the subcommittee dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency, which had been another sticking point for riders, said his bill had been completed, with language dealing with timber harvest and grazing remaining and the EPA set to sustain a nearly $300 million budget cut.

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