A closer look at next week...

There are also signs that Senate Democrats are looking to counter a package of energy bills approved by the House this week.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing to consider legislation that would extend outer continental shelf (OCS) leases to let drillers meet new safety requirements, create a new OCS coordination office that requires coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency and facilitate “appropriate” oil and gas development.

Senate passage of these bills would stand in contrast to the three bills the House passed last week that would establish deadlines for Gulf drilling permits, set higher U.S. oil and gas production goals, and require the government to sell offshore drilling leases.

The Senate next week also has a chance to get ahead of the debate on how to extend three expiring surveillance authorities under the Patriot Act. Congress approved an extension until May 27, and House Republicans are likely to take up a bill next week to either make them permanent or extend them through 2017.

House Democrats have proposed a bill extending them until the end of 2013, similar to a bill that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was pushing in February.

Also next week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds the second part of a hearing on the reform of U.S. intelligence agencies in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. That hearing might offer clues as to whether the Senate will take up a House-passed bill that specifies intelligence agency spending for the rest of the current fiscal year.

The House bill passed with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, and the White House has not issued a veto threat, both factors that make Senate action on this bill possible in the coming weeks.

The Senate returns at 2 p.m. Monday and could start the week with a vote on a judicial nominee.