House and Senate, Booked for December

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Congress has a full schedule before taking a holiday break. The House and Senate are looking at legislation around job programs, the health care overhaul and defense spending.

The Associated Press reports one of the top things on the House's agenda today is a $626 billion defense spending bill.

The measures included in that bill include two-month extensions of several programs set to die at year's end, among them federal jobless benefits approved as part of the economic stimulus package last February, health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and federal funds for highway and other infrastructure projects.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, at a news conference Tuesday, told The AP that the package will also extend several provisions of the anti-terror Patriot Act for two months, which are set to expire while the two chambers work out issues of surveillance and privacy rights.

A small business loan program, a satellite TV distribution law and a measure that temporarily shields doctors from a sharp cut in Medicare payments are also expected to be part of the defense bill. Congressman Hoyer said he hoped the Senate would accept these measures without modification so the bill can be sent speedily to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The House will also look at a stopgap measure to ensure that the Pentagon isn't deprived of money because of congressional delays in approving the defense bill, and a measure that would extend the federal debt ceiling by $200 billion.

Since the House is voting on so many two-month extensions of current law, Congress will have to return to many of the same issues in February. That will likely hold up other legislation around jobs, deficit reduction and clean energy in 2010.

But Democrats have no choice, given the demands of the Senate, which has been focused on health care reform. "In a world of alternatives, that's the one we have," Hoyer said.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is still trying to secure the 60 votes he needs to pass a $1 trillion health care overhaul bill by next week.

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