- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Democratic leaders yesterday outlined what they promise will be a busy legislative spring schedule, predicting debates on immigration reform, government spending and defense policy.

The House and Senate will be in recess next week. The Senate will return April 10, and the House will resume business April 16.

Iraq policy has dominated the agenda on Capitol Hill for months. By the time lawmakers bring their work to a close this week, they are expected to have passed a budget and a war-spending bill in both chambers.

Both measures are subject to a compromise between representatives and senators, but the passage of each clears the way for members to begin handling other legislative challenges.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said yesterday that the first item on the agenda will be the D.C. voting rights bill. The measure, which would give the District voting representation in Congress for the first time in decades, was ready to be approved last week, but Republicans used a parliamentary move to block its passage.

“I expect it to be in a position where we will not have the procedural problems that we confronted” last week, Mr. Hoyer said.

In early May, Democrats will present on the floor a bill dealing with Defense Department policies, he said. During the rest of the spring, the House will focus on the 11 appropriations bills, each of which allots funding for government programs and operations such as military, homeland security and education, he said.

The Republican-controlled Congress last year passed just two of the 11 bills before handing power to Democrats.

Lawmakers will meet “five days a week every week in June” to pass the appropriations bills, Mr. Hoyer said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday that a bill to allow federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research will be considered after the recess.

The House has passed the measure, which is identical to a bill both chambers approved last year. President Bush vetoed the bill last year, for the first time in his presidency, and vowed to do so again if this measure reaches his desk.

The stem-cell bill was one of the Democrats’ six campaign promises last year. Two other pledges — bills to increase the minimum wage and to implement the remaining recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — have passed both chambers, but differences have to be worked out before they are sent to the president.

Also on the list was a bill changing the Medicare prescription-drug program. Mr. Reid said the Senate will consider that proposal in April.

The Senate then will work to authorize policy carried out by the nation’s intelligence agencies in an authorization bill that has not been approved for two years, he said.

Mr. Reid highlighted plans to tackle immigration policy the final two weeks of May, and Mr. Hoyer said he would like the Senate — which passed a comprehensive immigration plan last year — to take the lead on the legislation. The House version will be subject to committee hearings in June and “hopefully” on the floor in July, Mr. Hoyer said.

Also in the coming weeks, House and Senate negotiators will reconcile the competing versions of the Iraq war-spending measure.

Mr. Reid said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, will reform the conference committee process and “when we come back, we’ll have real conferences, public conferences, where Democrats and Republicans can sit together and try to work through the process.”

Neither the House leader nor the Senate leader committed to having floor debates on a global-warming bill before July, but each promised committee hearings related to energy policy and said legislation might be able to reach the floor.

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