In the mad rush to complete work before Christmas, there are three big-ticket items on which Democrats and Republicans seem to agree.
"Obviously the Senate is waiting on the House with respect to the tax extender package, the way forward on funding the government and the National Defense Authorization Act," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. "Once those measures are received, we'll decide how to go forward."
"I think everybody agrees, on a bipartisan basis, those are three things we simply must do here at the end of the session," the Kentucky Republican continued. "Fund the government, make sure we don't have any retroactive tax increases, and follow the tradition of many years, which is to pass a National Defense Authorization Act. I'm confident the Senate will do that before we depart for the holidays."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was on the same page on high-priority legislation. "I'm doing everything I can to help the Republican leaders accomplish what I believe they say publicly and privately what they want, and I hope they'll say yes for an answer," said Reid, who also warned against listening to "extremists" on the GOP side.
"Our goal remains a long-term omnibus dealing with all of our appropriation bills," said Reid, who noted he stood behind the work of Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "I haven't seen it yet, but I can imagine it won't be a perfect bill, and that's an understatement. But, no legislation is. I've had very productive conversations with my Republican counterparts in the House and in the Senate. Everyone recognizes we have a goal of passing a year-long spending bill."
The tax extenders issue could prove more complex, with Reid deferring a decision on how to handle it until he sees what the House sends across. The House opted to set the path to move forward on a one-year retroactive extension after the collapse of a potential agreement between Reid and the GOP-led House.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Finance Committee, called the White House's preemptive declaration that President Barack Obama would veto a bigger deal that had seemed to be taking shape last week between Reid and House Republicans a case of "poisoning the well."
"You've got the White House fighting with Senate Democrats, and Senate Democrats fighting with each other, which makes it fairly complicated to navigate the lame duck and get the things that need to be done before the end of the year," said Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota.
"We're going to do the very best we can, and move as many as we can. Right now we have a number of them we're trying to work on. We've got of course the NLRB," Reid said. "We've got the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we've got a number of things we're going to get done in the next few days."
Earlier Tuesday, the Environment and Public Works Committee voted to back the nomination of current Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Jeffrey M. Baran to an extended term on the panel. All 10 affirmative votes came from Democrats, as Republicans did not attend and all voted no by proxy. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the ranking Republican on EPW, had called for a new hearing on Baran's nomination while criticizing him for a lack of experience.
A coalition of liberal groups have called for Reid to work as long as needed to confirm Obama's nominees. The White House did not provide comment when asked if they would be pushing Reid to do so.
"But we still have 130 nominations, and it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out there aren't enough hours in the day or the week or the next month to get those done," Reid said. "So, we're going to do the very best we can, get as many as we can done, and hopefully we'll get some cooperation from the Republicans to move more rather than less."
Lauren Gardner contributed to this report.