Oct. 1 Adjournment Hopes Evaporating

Posted July 20, 2005 at 6:48pm

It’s an annual ritual: House and Senate leaders release their legislative schedules for the year, and folks all over town snicker at the overly optimistic adjournment date.

This year’s target for Congress to finish work — Oct. 1 — is no different. And while both chambers almost always stay in session beyond their scheduled exit, the looming Supreme Court nomination fight has now officially guaranteed this year’s floor action will go into extra innings.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) admitted as much during his weekly session with reporters on Wednesday, the morning after President Bush nominated U.S. Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

“I think the president took care of Oct. 1 last night,” DeLay said.

While Roberts’ nomination may only be on the actual Senate legislative agenda for a relatively short period, floor time in the chamber is already scarce.

The Senate has yet to bring up seven of its 12 annual appropriations bills, making it unlikely — even without the Supreme Court fight — that Congress could adjourn in early October. Additionally, Senate appropriators have yet to even give committee consideration to perhaps the most important spending bill, the Defense Department appropriations measure. A markup scheduled for this week was postponed until next week.

Indeed, though the Senate has passed five measures and the House has passed its full slate, not one appropriations bill has been sent to the president and House-Senate conference negotiations on those bills only began this week.

“It’s not unusual for us to go beyond [the target adjournment], particularly with all the appropriations work we have to do,” said Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Given the broad range of legislation facing the Senate this year, one senior Senate GOP aide said it was likely that Congress would be in session in October or later even before Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement.

“We’ve never thought that we would get out of here at that point,” said the aide of the target adjournment. The aide added that Roberts’ nomination would likely not consume as much floor time as appropriations bills and other individual issues.

On the House side, September will likely be busy as well. While the chamber has already plowed through its versions of all the appropriations bills, it will still have to deal with the conference reports. A Social Security bill, or perhaps a broader pension reform bill, could also be on the chamber’s schedule, as well as immigration reform and a handful of other big-ticket items.