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Congress to stay in session past Thanksgiving
Question of the Day
As Congress tries to make up for lost time from the anthrax attack, congressional leaders said yesterday they probably will not wrap up their business until early December.
"We will probably still be here completing the appropriations after Thanksgiving," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
The fiscal year began Oct. 1, and Congress approved a measure to keep the government running at last year's spending levels through Nov. 16.
But lawmakers have completed action on only three of the 13 annual spending bills. Amid continued disruptions from the anthrax attack on Oct. 15, there is growing resignation at the Capitol that Congress will not meet the Nov. 16 deadline.
One item that does seem certain to be approved this year is a congressional pay raise of $4,900.
The boost in lawmakers' salary from $145,100 to $150,000 per year is slated to take effect unless Congress acts specifically to block it. The only lawmaker who tried to block it, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, failed last week and had not decided on a new strategy to bring up his measure again.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader yesterday urged congressional leaders in a letter not to accept the raise.
"In their annual spectacle of shamelessness, members of Congress are joined yet again in an effort to sneak themselves a pay raise, without a recorded vote," Mr. Nader wrote. "This proposed pay grab would be wrong if our nation were at peace, but it is especially undignified and tasteless during this time of trial."
Lawmakers did report progress last night on the administration's $22.5 billion education bill, although several difficult issues, including standards for rating schools' performance, remained to be worked out.
Senate Republicans again tried to pressure Majority Leader Tom Daschle to allow a vote on the administration's energy plan, bringing national veteran groups representing 5 million members to Capitol Hill.
Representatives of the groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, said America's domestic energy resources are vital to the nation's security.
"We are engaged in mortal combat with an enemy who wants to see us fail in securing an energy policy," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi.
Republicans said Mr. Daschle is beholden to environmental interest groups and is blocking on partisan grounds a measure to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
"He is being overtly political at a time of national crisis and the president is saying daily he wants an energy bill," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he will bring up a bill that does not include drilling in the ANWR when he is ready.
"We're going to have an energy bill just as soon as we have time to consider an energy bill and just as soon as we can figure out a way not to hold energy hostage to ANWR," Mr. Daschle said. "As soon as we figure out those two things, we'll have an energy bill."
As lawmakers grapple with these issues, 50 Senate offices will be closed until Nov. 13 for fumigating against anthrax spores. The Longworth House Office Building remains closed for testing.
Mr. Daschle said despite lawmakers' unified front in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, partisan differences will emerge on other issues before Congress.
"I think you're going to have traditional partisan differences," Mr. Daschle said. "I mean, that's really what we're here for. We didn't shut down democracy when we were attacked on September 11th. No one should be apologetic for having differences of opinion over important matters of public policy."
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.
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