Late End to Session Likely

Posted August 12, 2005 at 5:22pm

In the latest sign that Republican Congressional leaders have given up on trying to finish business by the beginning of October, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced last week that the Senate will be in recess from Oct. 9 to Oct.17.

With the announcement comes the implication that Congress will likely be in session until the beginning of November and possibly until Thanksgiving.

Still, Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said the October recess plan is tentative.

“If we do need to be here into October, there will be that break,” she said.

However, the Oct. 1 adjournment date had already fallen by the wayside weeks before Frist announced the mid-month recess.

When Bush nominated John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court in July, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) joked that the president “took care of” the projected adjournment date with that move.

But Roberts, whom Frist hopes to confirm before the Supreme Court’s term begins on Oct. 3, is not the only obstacle preventing the Senate from adjourning by October.

While the House passed all 11 of its annual spending bills before the July Fourth recess, the Senate still has seven of its 12 spending bills to pass. These must then be reconciled with the House-passed versions, a job that must be completed before Congress can adjourn for the year.

Because Roberts’ nomination will likely take a week or more of Senate floor time during September, government agencies, perhaps including the Defense Department, may have to wait well into October, and possibly November, before they receive a new cashflow from appropriations bills.

This September, Frist also plans to consider two controversial measures that are expected to be time-consuming, one dealing with eliminating the estate tax and another allowing federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

The estate tax bill will come up shortly after Congress reconvenes on Sept. 6 following the month-long August recess, Frist has said. Call said the timing of the stem-cell measure would depend on Frist’s ability to work out an agreement with concerned Senators about how many stem-cell and anti-cloning measures to bring up as part of the debate.

Though no decision has been made yet on the House’s October schedule, the chamber’s leaders are accustomed to the fact that the Senate typically takes much longer to complete its work than the House does, making an October session something of a foregone conclusion anyway.

“We hope to get out as soon as possible but … we always seem to be in through the month of October anyway,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “We’ve had a great year of accomplishments and our appropriations bills are running smoothly. Hopefully we’ll be out at a reasonable time this fall.”

Besides having to deal with any conference reports on spending measures, an extended fall session will give Republican leaders more time to grapple with a full plate of difficult legislative issues that await them after the August recess.

That slate will likely include a Social Security overhaul, immigration reform and a budget reconciliation bill. All three of those topics have fostered internal divisions within the GOP ranks and will require some fancy footwork by the leadership to pass.