This week: Lawmakers turn to Sandy relief, farm bill

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If the Senate signs off on the bill, its next step will be a conference committee between the two chambers. The House has not passed a Sandy spending bill, but the Senate’s version began its life as a 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations package passed by the House.

House appropriators are still trying to figure out how much disaster aid they want, and House leaders have yet to say whether they think Sandy spending needs to be offset with cuts to existing programs.

In other end-of-year housekeeping, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Thursday said the House is still trying to find a way to deal with the farm programs that expired on Oct. 1. House and Senate Agriculture Committee members are trying to informally work out their differences and get a five-year farm bill inserted into a fiscal cliff deal. The House farm bill cuts the deficit by $35 billion over 10 years and could be used to help replace the $109 billion in sequestered cuts to spending that will hit in January.

The Senate's No. 2 Democrat suggested last week that the House pass a whole group of bills sent to them by the Senate in what is likely to be the last full week that lawmakers will spend in Washington.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass the farm bill that "passed 175 days ago in the United States Senate."

He also said the House should consider the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and a postal reform measure that also passed the upper chamber.

The Senate Banking Committee has lined up a trio of subcommittee hearings for what otherwise is a sleepy week on the committee front. On Tuesday, one panel will discuss the growing use of computerized trading in financial markets with a range of experts. On Wednesday, another panel will hold a hearing on consumer credit reports, while a third will devote Thursday to discuss efforts to rebuild the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy.

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will consider a pair of nominations. On the docket are William Schultz, who has been tapped to serve as general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Christopher Meade, nominated for the same position at the Treasury Department.

The government will provide its third and final estimate for third quarter economic growth on Thursday. Fresh data on personal income and an advance report on durable goods purchases are due out Friday.