Senate Democrats this week will cap their summer, like last year, by confirming a Supreme Court justice, and will likely wait until after Labor Day to consider any other major legislation.
In 2009, the Senate confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, news that was quickly eclipsed by the spectacle of attacks on healthcare overhaul legislation.
This year, the Senate will confirm Solicitor General Elena Kagan, then punt an oil spill and possibly a small-business hiring bill into September.
Republicans have said they want three or more days of floor speeches ahead of the vote on Kagan, but Democrats will grant less.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Reid said the chamber will not move to the nomination before Wednesday. The vote could then occur Friday, but with lawmakers eager to exit, a Thursday evening vote appears probable, aides said.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said Friday he would vote to confirm Kagan, becoming the fifth Republican to do so. GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will vote to confirm Kagan.
Earlier Friday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announced he would vote against Kagan. According to a National Journal count, Corker is the 25th Republican to announce plans to vote against confirming Kagan.
Democrats will head home hoping this August treats them better than the last one, betting a recent focus on job-related legislation will steer political conversation in the dog days onto economic grounds that will favor them.
Oil has stopped spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. And Democrats can point to passage since last month of a financial regulatory reform bill and an extension of federal unemployment benefits through November.
This week will determine if the chamber passes the small-business bill, which stalled last week in a dispute over amendments.
Reid on Thursday urged members to "cool down" over the weekend as aides said they hoped for a deal that would set up a quick series of votes and passage of the bill by Wednesday.
Republicans have sought votes on four amendments, while Reid last week offered three. Aides said completion could wait until September if they do not reach a deal, which will have to include Republican agreement to limit debate time.
The Senate votes tonight on a cloture motion on a $26.1 billion domestic spending package that includes $10 billion in funding to avert teacher layoffs and $16.1 billion in Medicaid aid by extending Federal Medical Assistance Percentage reimbursements.
That vote is a nod to House Democrats who are irked that senators stripped the funding from other bills and to governors who are lobbying for the funds.
Democratic aides were pessimistic they would get the GOP votes needed for cloture despite offsets covering the bill's cost.
In some ways though, prospects of passing the small-business bill and domestic spending measure this week matter less than their presence on the calendar.
After Reid, urged on by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., broke a broad jobs and tax extenders bill into pieces in February, Democrats have spent much of the last six months trying to force those pieces -- notably the unemployment extensions and a tax extenders bill -- through the Senate over Republican opposition.
That strategy has resulted in a steady stream of lost cloture votes -- apparent setbacks that let Democrats trumpet their efforts to pass bills to address the economic slump and Republican efforts to stop them.
The last vote was Thursday's failed cloture vote to advance the small-business bill, which was bracketed by attacks from Democrats, including President Obama, on GOP opposition to the bill.
Those attacks are part of an effort to blame Republicans for the country's economic woes and force voters in November to choose between Democratic and Republican economic proposals.
"People need to know that when they cast that Republican vote, they're casting that vote for those same discredited policies that punished the middle class and created this crisis in the first place," White House political adviser David Axelrod said Thursday after a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats. Axelrod said he argued Democrats should warn against "going back" to GOP policies.
The Senate meets today at 2 p.m. for morning business, and afterward resumes consideration of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage aid measure.
The House is not in session.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet Wednesday morning to discuss the new START treaty. By placing the treaty on the agenda, Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry has given enough notification to hold a vote if he chooses this week.
The treaty, the first major nuclear arms reduction accord in nearly two decades, would reduce the U.S. and Russian arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons by about a third.
"No final decision has been made on whether it will be brought to the table" for a vote, a Kerry spokesman said Friday. Kerry is discussing the treaty with other panel members and "trying to assuage any concerns that might exist," the spokesman added.
The Obama administration hopes the Senate will ratify the treaty -- action requiring 67 votes -- this year. Several Republicans have raised concerns about the agreement, including its potential impact on U.S. missile defense efforts, and have requested additional information.
Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on the findings of an independent panel tasked with reviewing the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review released in February.
The panel, which Congress mandated in the FY10 defense authorization bill, warned in its report released last week that the military will face a budgetary "train wreck" as the department tries to tackle rising personnel costs and replace aging equipment.
"The issues raised in the body of this report are sufficiently serious that we believe an explicit warning is appropriate," according to the report. "The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure."
Witnesses include former Defense Secretary William Perry and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who served as the panel's co-chairs.
The committee will meet again Tuesday afternoon for a confirmation hearing for three nominees for senior defense positions.
The nominees include Jonathan Woodson to be assistant Defense secretary for health affairs; Teresa Takai to be assistant Defense secretary for networks and information integration; Neile Miller to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Anne Harrington to be deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on the status of the economy.
Set to testify are Richard Berner, chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley; Simon Johnson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; and Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.
The Commerce Department Friday said the gross domestic product grew at an annual pace of 2.4 percent from April to June, which was significantly less than the 3.7 percent increase the previous quarter. The lackluster economic growth likely means that unemployment will remain high for some time.
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer said as much after the Commerce Department's announcement, but she also stressed that the latest quarter marks the fourth consecutive increase in GDP.
"This solid rate of growth indicates that the process of steady recovery from the recession continues," Romer said. "Nevertheless, faster growth is needed to bring about substantial reductions in unemployment. Much work clearly remains to be done before the U.S. economy is fully recovered."
OMB, in its midsession review released last month, said that the unemployment rate, which is currently 9.5 percent, is not expected to fall below 6 percent until 2015.
It remains unclear if the Senate will have the time or will to consider its legislation addressing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill before it takes off for recess.
Reid intends to file for cloture on the motion to proceed to the package today, which would set up a Wednesday vote on a motion to proceed to it. But GOP aides have said that votes on other matters might push it aside. Reid is expected to block GOP amendments to the bill as well, which would likely draw unanimous Republican opposition.
Reid also faces a lack of certain "yes" votes. When asked late last week whether he had the 60 votes necessary for passage, Reid shrugged and said, "We'll see."
Reid faces staunch opposition from nearly all Republicans and skepticism from Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska.
The impasse has centered on unlimited liability for oil companies in the wake of a spill. Reid's bill includes language by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., that removes the current $75 million cap. Landrieu has been working with Begich and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on a compromise. And while Menendez is in talks with Landrieu about that proposal, Reid seems firm on keeping with the unlimited liability language.
Senators from both parties expressed interest in seeing the Landrieu proposal, but they lack the time for any substantive debate on it or the other components of the bill.
"I'd really like to look at that in more detail," Sen. Carte Goodwin, D-W.Va., said.
"I would be willing to look at that," Gregg said.
The Senate Banking Committee will hold a Tuesday hearing on legislation to establish competitive grants that would coordinate planning that integrates issues such as transportation, housing, land use and economic development.
The bill, sponsored by Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd, would create an office of sustainable housing and communities within HUD, as well as an interagency council on sustainable communities.
The panel's Economy Policy Subcommittee will hold a Thursday hearing on the Obama administration's manufacturing agenda.
The Senate is poised to move a number of health-related bills, but the odds of getting all of them on the floor and passed are slim.
First up is a $16 billion injection of Medicaid assistance that states have been clamoring for, attached to an FAA reauthorization set for a cloture vote tonight.
The amendment is similar to the scaled-back Medicaid funding included in the tax extenders package that died in the Senate in June. It provides states with an increase of 3.2 percent above traditional federal Medicaid funding for the first quarter of 2011 and a 1.2 percent increase in the second quarter.
Passing the provision with the FAA legislation will not be easy, as senators in both parties are holding fast that increased Medicaid funding should be paid for.
Democratic leaders also want to consider food safety and child nutrition legislation. Both bills are largely bipartisan, but leaders have struggled to get the floor time needed for passage.
Child nutrition advocates gathered last week to push consideration of the bill, which adds $4.5 billion to nutrition programs, offset by cuts to a food stamp education program and a USDA conservation program.
"The critical investment this bill makes is completely paid for and will not add one cent to the national debt," said Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln. "We have just 21 legislative days left before the current child nutrition bill expires on Sept. 30.
"We simply just need a few hours to get it passed."
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Health Reform holds a briefing today to examine how state administrators and the federal government will work together to implement the healthcare overhaul law.
Presenters include Brian Webb of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Lorez Meinhold, the chief administrator implementing health overhaul changes in Colorado. Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is slated to attend the event, in addition to HHS' Jay Angoff, who directs the new agency office tasked with regulating insurers and insurance markets. The panel is expected to focus on state challenges in meeting federal requirements under the law.
A Senate panel on Wednesday plans to examine whether federal agencies are prepared and organized to respond to a terrorist attack inside the United States involving a weapon of mass destruction, such as a nuclear or radiological bomb.
The hearing, to be held by the Judiciary Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, comes on the heels of a report from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine that the FBI appears to be ready for such an attack, but the rest of the Justice Department is not.
The panel's chairman, Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller about preparedness efforts during a hearing Wednesday.
"Working in the nation's capital, we are the epicenter of concern about those types of attacks," Cardin said. "So we're very interested in making sure that the lessons that you have learned in the FBI are not only shared but implemented by other agencies in the Department of Justice, to make sure we're as prepared as we can be against this threat against America."
Mueller said the bureau's program for responding to a weapon of mass destruction "is not just headquarters-centric; it is throughout the United States, including, quite obviously, in Maryland."
The hearing will feature testimony from Fine along with James Baker, associate deputy attorney general, and Steward Beckham, FEMA's director of the Office of National Capital Region Coordination.
The House won't be in session. But Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and Minority Leader Boehner will all hit the stump to raise money and talk up their parties' candidates, accomplishments and agendas.
Pelosi has more than 35 fundraising events set for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, members and candidates, as well as appearances to highlight House Democrats' late-blooming "Make It in America Agenda," the Recovery Act, Social Security and troop support.
A few events will be in Pelosi's district, such as her participation in an AFSCME Boot Camp in San Francisco. She also plans to attend a DCCC dinner with Obama in Los Angeles.
Pelosi will appear in early September at the American Legion Conference in Milwaukee, where 6,000 attendees are expected. So far for the 2010 cycle, Pelosi claims to have raised $35.2 million in 21 states. Her office would not specify how many other states will be added during the break.
Hoyer also plans to hit the campaign trail -- his office confirming he will make appearances for more than two dozen House members and candidates. His office did not provide details.
Meanwhile, Boehner will be headlining fundraising events for more than 30 candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee in 17 states, and will also be spending time in his Ohio district -- with a main theme being the need for a House Republican majority to cut government spending and help small businesses create jobs.
So far this cycle, Boehner claims to have raised more than $30 million for GOP candidates and the party through his stumping.
Back in Washington, there may not be any votes cast in the House chamber again until September. But by the time that occurs, there could be a new look to how votes are displayed.
Upgrades are expected over the break, details of which are to be announced this week by House officials.
Pelosi also announced late Friday that Theresa Grafenstine had been appointed to be the first woman to head the House Office of Inspector General.
Grafenstine's appointment comes after the unanimous bipartisan recommendation of a panel of members of the House Administration Committee.
Kansas, Michigan and Missouri hold their primaries on Tuesday, and Tennessee holds its primary on Thursday.
In Kansas, the marquee battle is between Republican Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran for the Senate nomination to replace GOP Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor. The seats they are vacating are reliably Republican. The GOP sees a chance to pick up the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, though, and there is a multicandidate field of Republicans competing for the nod. The incumbent's wife, Stephene Moore, is the favorite for the Democratic nomination against Thomas Scherer.
In Michigan, Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra is in a tight primary race for the gubernatorial nod with venture capitalist Rick Snyder and state Attorney General Mike Cox.
Republicans are looking to flip the seat Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak is vacating, and have a field that includes state Senate Majority Whip Jason Allen and activist Ben Benishek. The likely Democratic nominee is state Rep. Gary McDowell.
In Tennessee, Republican Rep. Zach Wamp is locked in a tight primary for the governor's race with state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. The winner will take on the likely Democratic nominee, Mike McWherter, the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter.
Republicans are counting on flipping the open seats of retiring Democratic Reps. Bart Gordon and John Tanner.
They have a good shot in Gordon's district, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy and former Rutherford County Republican Chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik are competing for the nod. The Democrats have not fielded a competitive candidate.
It's a different story in Tanner's district. In state Sen. Roy Herron, Democrats have a strong nominee with a good chunk of change in the bank.
Republicans believe they found a jewel in farmer Stephen Fincher, but his presence was not strong enough to muscle out challengers. As a result, two well-funded opponents-- Ron Kirkland and George Flinn -- jumped into the race.
Meetings between FCC officials and industry stakeholders may be nearing an agreement on net-neutrality regulations, according to an analyst report by Stifel Nicolaus. The meetings are part of talks aimed at finding a compromise on Internet regulation in lieu of the FCC's proposal to reclassify parts of broadband as a telecommunications service. Such as reclassification would grant the FCC more regulatory authority over broadband providers. The goal of the talks, whose tempo has increased lately, appears to be to reach an agreement early this month, the report says.
The FCC will hold its monthly open meeting Thursday with a very thin agenda. Only two items will be considered: an amendment to the commission's rules that would enable consumers with hearing loss to enjoy the benefits of modern telephone voice communication devices and a proposed rulemaking that would remove regulatory barriers to the use of spectrum for wireless backhaul and other forms of communication.
On Tuesday, Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and Danny Werfel, controller of OMB's Office of Federal Financial Management, will testify at a hearing on using technology to improve government efficiency held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled a hearing on trade on Wednesday, with Trade Representative Kirk as the lead witness.
Major farm leaders view the proposed Panama, Colombia and South Korea trade agreements as good for U.S. agriculture, and Kirk is likely to come under questioning about the administration's intentions to move those agreements forward.
The committee is also likely to ask Kirk about producers' concerns that other countries are using overwrought concerns about mad cow disease, swine flu and poultry sanitation to bar U.S. meat products. It is also likely to pepper him about the Obama administration's views on proposals to end the ban on American travel to Cuba and ease the finance rules under which Cuba can import U.S. farm products.
In addition to Kirk, representatives of the American Soybean Association, USA Rice Federation, Tyson Foods and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives are scheduled to testify.
Obama will spend much of this week on the road, talking to veterans and touting his economic policies affecting the auto industry.
Today he goes to Atlanta to speak to the Disabled American Veterans National Convention. Tuesday he'll be at the White House. On Wednesday, he leaves for Chicago and will spend his 49th birthday there. On Thursday, he will headline a Senate fundraiser and visit a Ford plant before returning to the White House.