Spending showdown looms as Reid clears deck for energy reform bill

Senate and House Democrats are headed for a clash this week over funding for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) races to clear the schedule for long-awaited energy reform legislation.

The Senate and House are squabbling over $22.8 billion House appropriators added to the supplemental bill. House lawmakers note that it’s fully paid for with offsets, such as $11.7 billion in rescissions to government programs that no longer need funding.

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Senate Democratic leaders, however, doubt the House bill can pass their chamber with the extra spending, including $10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund to save 140,000 school jobs over the next year.

Senate passage is complicated by a pending veto threat from President Obama. He objects to the House proposal to pay for the education fund by rescinding money for the administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, which rewards academically improved schools with grants.

A Senate Democratic aide said leaders will nevertheless schedule a vote on the House legislation. If it fails, the aide said, “we’ll have to figure out what to do.”

Senate sources say Reid is scheduling the vote to prove to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) it can’t pass the upper chamber. Reid could then ask the House to accept the Senate version, which costs $58.8 billion and provides $33 billion for the troops.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Senate Republicans on Tuesday that if Congress didn’t approve the funds by month’s end, he could not pay the troops, according to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

But even before that spending showdown takes place, Senate Democrats have to address unemployment benefits and small-business legislation.

At 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Carte Goodwin will take the oath of office to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), giving Democrats control of 59 Senate seats. The Senate will move immediately to cut off a Republican filibuster of legislation to extend jobless benefits through November. The legislation will also extend, by three months, the filing deadline for the homebuyers tax credit, a proposal sponsored by Reid.

The initial deadline to claim the tax credit was June 30, but many homebuyers with contracts missed it because of a backlog in paperwork. The problem is especially acute in states with high foreclosure rates, such as Nevada.

Democratic leaders expect to have 60 votes to file cloture and advance the bill once Goodwin joins their caucus. Reid scheduled a vote on a similar measure before the July 4 recess. It fell one vote short after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) voted for it.

Republicans could insist on using the full 30 hours of post-cloture time mandated by Senate rules if they want to wreck the Democrats’ carefully planned schedule. But Reid thinks he can work out an agreement with Republicans to move quickly to the small-business and supplemental bills.

“The Republican leader and I are working on a way to move forward on small business,” Reid told colleagues late last week. “I think we have a pretty good path of what we’re going to do on that. After we finish that, it’s my intention to move to the supplemental appropriations bill.”

Reid said he would need to file another motion to cut off a filibuster of the military spending bill, but added, “I think we can work out the time on that so it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time.”

Time is of the essence, as Reid has pledged to begin the energy debate the week of July 26. That would give Democrats two weeks to pass energy reform and confirm Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by the August recess, scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

The recess is scheduled to last five weeks, giving lawmakers facing tough reelections — including Reid — plenty of time to campaign. The House is scheduled to begin its recess on July 30.

Reid has warned that he may cut a week off the Senate recess if the legislative pace slows.

“As everyone knows here, we’re going to be here four or five weeks,” Reid told colleagues, referring to the work period that began on July 12. “The two leaders, Democrat and Republican, were betting on four weeks rather than five weeks, but we’ll need a little cooperation to get that done.”