House Dems count down final week

The last week in session will result in either good news or bad news for House Democrats.

The party could use the week to cram as many job creating and deficit reduction measures onto the floor schedule as possible so they can tout their work to voters back home during the August recess.

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Or they could spend the week running through the gantlet of Rep. Charlie Rangel's  (D-N.Y.) ethics troubles, the never-ending stimulus-deficit legislative paradox and the Senate's virtual inability to act on anything the House manages to pass.

The signs indicate either scenario could emerge before the House adjourns until after Labor Day.

Last week, Democratic leaders announced plans to move forward on a new "Make it in America" agenda, which, as of now, is an undefined mix of bills designed to bolster the crumbling manufacturing sector through various tax incentives, trade policy tweaks and direct investments.

It was put together in response to the frustration with the pace of the economic recovery — a feeling that is shared among Americans and Democrats in Congress.

At the same time, many of the agenda items will cost money and will require not just offsets — if they aren't determined to be "emergency" measures — but a further balancing of the stimulus-versus-deficit equation.

A growing number of Democrats believe reducing spending needs to be the party's No. 1 priority — even above fostering job growth amid record unemployment.

And they’re making sure their voices are heard.

As leadership offices were beginning to put together their press kits on the "Make it in America" agenda, a group of four House Democrats, who are not known as fiscal hawks, were putting together a working group on deficit reduction.

Deficit reduction has remained a mantra of House leaders all year, but as the rubber started hitting the road in earnest, leaders found themselves having to answer questions about why they weren't embracing as many of the spending cut proposals — modest as they were — that they could get their hands on.

And the answers that leaders did give were nonspecific and largely noncommittal.

With so many House Democrats clamoring for tangible budget cuts to take home to their districts, and a large segment of the caucus just as desperate for proof that Democrats are doing everything in their power to put a dent in the unemployment rate, Democrats might just want this work period behind them.

A Democratic leadership aide said on Friday afternoon that a final floor schedule had not been set, but noted leaders have planned on bringing as many as three "Make it in America" items up for votes — albeit on the suspension calendar, which would help the legislation bypass the committee process.

Should the Senate finish its consideration of the war supplemental, the House would very likely consider it before the end of the week in the hopes of sending it to President Obama before they adjourn. In addition, the House might consider two appropriations bills — Military Constructions and Veterans Affairs and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

Any hopes that House Democrats had for an uneventful final week vanished, however, on Thursday evening when the House ethics committee announced it was formally charging Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) with violating House ethics rules and that a special panel of committee members would meet in public on Thursday to spell out the charges and begin a trial.

The announcement came just as the House was taking its final vote of the week, giving the vast majority of Democrats the chance to head for the airports and out of town. And by Friday afternoon, many of those Democrats — including those who called for Rangel to surrender his Ways and Means Committee gavel — were continuing to remain out of sight.

A leadership aide said Friday their office did not anticipate hearing from members en masse until Monday at the earliest, when they are scheduled to return for evening votes.