Even as the Senate comes back for a brief session this week before Wednesday's Veterans Day holiday, the stage is largely set for the rest of the year's legislative agenda in the wake of House passage of a landmark healthcare overhaul bill late Saturday night.
The House voted 220-215 to pass its version of health reform, but that milestone victory marks only the continuation of the bill's long journey from the House to the president's desk.
Action -- or what passes for action -- now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has already declared the House bill "dead on arrival."
But Senate Majority Leader Reid's office signaled he will try to complete a healthcare overhaul bill this year, even if it means weekend work.
"We will be in as much as necessary to get a bill done," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.
Reid indicated last week the overhaul's passage might slip into next year.
Because CBO has not yet issued scores on overhaul proposals Reid sent scorekeepers two weeks ago, Manley said the Veterans Day recess is not in jeopardy.
Thanksgiving Day recess could see lawmakers putting in some extra hours, though that is not Reid's preference. "He is inclined to give everyone Thanksgiving week off," Manley said.
If the Senate does pass a bill, it is likely to be drastically different from the one the House passed, setting up a contentious conference and forcing Democrats to rehash difficult fights over abortion and immigration.
But after months of town hall meetings and careful political calculation, House Democrats will spend a recess week in their districts finding out just how their votes play back home. The liberal advocacy group Health Care for America Now planned to meet members at their home airports over the weekend congratulating members who voted their way.
Even before the vote was cast Saturday night, Democrats and Republicans were provided by their leaders with recess packages with talking points.
Republicans intend to depict the bill as a "freight train" of runaway spending, bloated bureaucracy, higher taxes and federal mandates.
Democrats will hammer home a depiction of the bill as adding more stability and lowering medical costs for all Americans without adding to the deficit.
Democrats also were provided district-by-district impact fact sheets prepared by the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Democrats will be able to claim the vote was bipartisan -- barely. Rep. Anh (Joseph) Cao of Louisiana was the only Republican to join with Democrats on Saturday.
All eyes will be on moderate Democrats in swing districts, no matter how they voted. Opposition to the bill was largely geographic, with the largest bloc of Democratic "no" votes coming from members in southern states, including Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama.
House Speaker Pelosi did well in the Midwest -- every single Indiana Democrat, including Blue Dog Rep. Baron Hill, voted with her. Nearly all of Ohio's Democrats -- with the exception of Reps. John Boccieri, a moderate in a swing district, and Dennis Kucinich, who bucked the party from the left -- voted for the bill.
While many will face serious political pressure from Republicans and interest groups back home, the vote is an acknowledgment that failing to pass healthcare could set up serious problems for members in swing districts in 2010.
"I think there's a political imperative to pass health care. I ran on that," said Rep. Zack Space, D-Ohio, a Blue Dog who voted for the bill.
Bringing those moderates on board required leaders to grant concession after concession at the expense of liberal Democrats who say they carried Obama to the Oval Office last year.
A last-minute deal forced Pelosi to allow Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a floor vote to add Hyde Amendment language to the overall bill, codifying restrictions on federal abortion funding in statute for the first time.
Abortion rights groups are furious, and Democrats on both sides of the issue could get hammered at home: Those who voted with Stupak for betraying the party and those who voted against for failing to stand up to the pressure.
Manley said CBO's analysis of the Senate proposal might come this week. Once Reid gets the scores, he will cobble together the Senate's final overhaul bill based on the proposals that will produce the desired outcome of a cost under $900 billion that does not add to the deficit.
Reid has kept the content of those proposals secret except announcing he would include in the final bill a public option that will allow states to opt out if they choose.
Moderate senators are working on trying to change that. Many support a proposal from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to make participation in the public option dependent on a trigger mechanism measuring private insurers' ability to provide affordable coverage.
Senate Democratic leaders this week hope to finish work on the $133.9 billion, FY10 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill before recessing for Veterans Day, which is Wednesday.
"It is very important that we finish this bill before Veterans Day," Reid said Friday. "I think that would send a very good message to the veterans of our country."
That gives the Senate today and Tuesday to finish the measure. Reid said he hopes the Senate will be able to begin voting on amendments to the bill this evening.
Reid said that, in the past, the bill has been finished quickly by the Senate, and he hoped Republicans would cooperate.
"We need to get through this bill," Reid said. "We have a lot to do before the year ends."
Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said Friday he plans to offer an amendment to the bill to add $50 million to VA funding to renovate empty buildings and VA medical campuses to provide housing and services to homeless veterans.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he intends to offer an amendment to add $6 million to the VA's Grant and Per Diem program, which provides capital and operational resources to assist homeless veterans. The amendment would boost funding in the program to $150 million.
Johnson said he intends to accept Udall's amendment.
Senate consideration of the bill comes after the White House late last week issued a Statement of Administration Policy supporting the Senate bill.
The $133.9 billion of total funding in the measure is $7.1 billion over the $126.8 billion provided in FY09. The measure includes $76.7 billion in discretionary spending, which is $439 million more than requested by President Obama.
The bill appropriates $109 billion total for the Veterans Affairs Department, including $53.2 billion in discretionary funding, $150 million above Obama's request.
Total funding for the department's medical care accounts for FY10 would be $44.7 billion, $4.2 billion over FY09.
The legislation also approves $23.2 billion total for military construction projects, $286 million more than Obama's request.
The measure includes an advanced appropriation of $48.2 billion for FY11 for the VA's medical program to ensure uninterrupted funding, the first time the measure has done so.
To date, Congress has sent the president five of the 12 annual spending bills. The House has cleared its versions of all 12 bills, while the Senate has passed eight, including the $64.9 billion, FY10 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill, which was approved Thursday.
Along with the C-J-S bill, House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile differences between their versions of the FY10 Defense bill, and the FY10 Transportation-HUD bill.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye said last week he hoped to finish work on the Defense and Transportation-HUD bills this week.
* The Senate meets today at 2 p.m. for morning business. Afterward, the chamber will resume consideration of the Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill.
* The House is not in session.
House and Senate negotiators will continue to work behind closed doors this week to resolve remaining differences in the chambers' versions of the FY10 Defense Appropriations bill.
Congressional staffers have been working for weeks on the bill and have largely completed the legislation. But the schedule for a formal conference on the $636 billion measure remains uncertain.
At issue is whether to use the must-pass defense spending measure as a vehicle for other legislation, including a bill to increase the national debt limit.
The Defense Department has said the military's immediate bills are covered through the continuing resolution. The Pentagon ultimately will need the annual appropriations bill to pay for raises for military personnel and award contracts for programs.
Following last week's approval of climate change legislation by the Environment and Public Works Committee despite a boycott by Republicans, two panels considered more moderate and representative of the Senate will examine potential details of a bill Tuesday.
The Finance Committee -- chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a key coal-state senator -- looks at how jobs could be affected. The panel will hear from union and nuclear energy officials, as well as conservative and industry critics of a Senate cap-and-trade bill co-sponsored by Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer. That bill was reported out Thursday in Boxer's panel without participation from the committee's seven Republicans, who were seeking additional cost analysis from EPA.
Baucus was the only Democrat to oppose reporting it out, though he has predicted a bill would be approved this Congress. He opposes the Kerry-Boxer bill's requirement for U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Baucus filed an amendment lowering that requirement to 17 percent, with a trigger of up to 20 percent depending on emission reductions agreed to by other nations. But the protest from Republicans prevented any of the roughly 80 amendments Democrats filed from being considered.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday will hold a hearing on policy options for addressing climate change, not limited to creating a cap-and-trade program.
The panel in June approved an energy bill backed by the committee's leaders in both parties and which Reid wants to merge with a cap-and-trade strategy. Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski is a potential Republican backer of a cap-and-trade bill but has pushed for the debate to include alternatives.
She said last week's move by Boxer's panel "dooms that particular legislation" and might stall the climate debate in the Senate. Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Murkowski supported a cap-and-trade bill last Congress that had less aggressive targets than the Kerry-Boxer bill.
Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd is slated to unveil this week his draft for revamping the financial regulatory system without the support of Banking ranking member Richard Shelby, who wants to move at a slower pace.
The Dodd draft is likely to mirror a package that has been offered by House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank. One notable difference is Dodd will call for greater consolidation among banking regulators than the Obama administration or Frank has proposed by merging the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency with the Office of Thrift Supervision.
Dodd wants to further consolidate by merging the bank supervision duties of the Federal Reserve, which has jurisdiction over large bank holding companies and state-chartered banks, and the FDIC, which has oversight over most state-chartered banks, into the proposed agency. Frank contends such consolidation is politically unrealistic given opposition by the small-bank lobby.
The Senate panel will hold a Tuesday hearing on Dodd legislation that would rein in bank overdraft fees, which are expected to total $38.5 billion this year. The Dodd bill would require banks to get a customer's consent before enrolling them in an overdraft protection program limit overdraft fees banks to one per month and six per year, and require the fees to be proportional to processing cost.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plans to vote Tuesday on the nomination of Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Security Administration.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved his nomination last month. "If confirmed, I will work to improve TSA's ability to counter the terrorist threat to our transportation systems, while also safeguarding and enhancing the travel of people and the flow of goods," Southers told the committee.
Southers said he has worked on public safety and counterterrorism matters at the federal, state and local levels for 30 years. He has served as assistant chief in charge of security and intelligence at Los Angeles International Airport's police department since 2007.
He is also a former FBI agent and served as deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security.
"To protect our transportation systems, it is critical to work with all our partners, including other federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, private industry, our international partners, and most important of all, the traveling public," he said. "By engaging these partners, we will more effectively protect the nation's vital transportation systems to ensure the free flow of U.S. commerce and the free movement of the American people."
The Supreme Court today will consider what types of business methods qualify for patent protection in a case with ramifications for the software, biotechnology and financial services industries.
In what is expected to be the most significant intellectual property case before the high court this term, the justices will review a lower court's decision that narrowed the class of patentable inventions, excluding some innovations that do not have a physical component.
At issue is the Patent and Trademark Office's rejection of an application by inventor Bernard Bilski, who tried to patent what some believe is an abstract idea to reduce risk in buying and selling commodities. The case marks the first time since 1981 the Supreme Court has ruled on the types of innovations covered by the U.S. Patent Act.
The president leaves Wednesday for an Asian swing through four countries. He will be in Japan on Thursday and Friday, where he is scheduled to deliver a major foreign policy speech. Later Friday, he will head to Singapore for the three-day Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and meetings with other leaders. He heads to China on Sunday, then to South Korea, the final stop on his tour, on Nov. 18.
This article appears in the November 14, 2009, edition of NJ Daily.