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Senate scrambles to finish work and avoid Saturday session

Senate scrambles to finish work and avoid Saturday session
© Greg Nash

Senate negotiators are scrambling to come up with a voting schedule that will allow them to finish work on trade and government surveillance legislation on Friday and avoid working through the Memorial Day weekend.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (Ore.), its ranking Democrat, are expected to present a package of amendments to colleagues later today in hopes of securing agreement on a plan forward.

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If a deal is reached, it could pave the way for final passage of fast-track on Friday evening. Without one, final passage may get delayed until Saturday or early Sunday morning.

“They’re negotiating a package,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.). “They have a list that started at 25 and is now down to a lesser number.

“They’re trading paper back and forth and the object is to get on the amendments quickly,” he added.

A Senate aide familiar with the package said it currently includes about 25 amendments.

Senate Republicans will discuss it at a lunch scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and Democrats will review it at a caucus meeting scheduled for 1 p.m., according to aides.

The Senate also needs to come up with a deal on National Security Agency surveillance programs that are set to expire on June 1.

A wild card is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has bragged in a fundraising email that the Senate would have to work this weekend if they attempted to “ram through another last-minute deal to shred our Constitution.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) is counting on senators' desire to leave town to grease the wheels of compromise.

Senators are smelling jet fumes as they think about making it back home in time to catch political events and family barbecues.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was spotted wheeling a carry-on travel bag down the Ohio Clock corridor, prepared to dash at a moment's notice.

If Hatch and Wyden can secure unanimous consent from the entire Republican and Democratic conferences, it would set up a series of more than 10 votes on amendments, in addition to the five germane amendments currently pending.

Durbin warned, however, that if talks fall apart, finishing the trade debate “could conceivably take us until tomorrow night.”

A senior Democratic aide said the package would have to be approved by the entire Democratic caucus.

Without an agreement, the Senate will vote on only five pending germane amendments to the trade package.

They include two competing proposals addressing currency manipulation, one offered by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and an alternative offered by Hatch and Wyden.

Another is a proposal from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to require congressional approval before letting other countries join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

A fourth, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would bar Congress from using fast-track to approve trade deals that allow companies to use “corporate-friendly” arbitration processes to settle disputes.

Senate leaders hope Paul will agree to vote quickly on a short-term extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act if he is promised votes on amendments to a longer-term reauthorization due on the floor later this year.

Paul said he would agree to such a deal as long as he got a promise on future votes in writing.

“If they let us have amendments, that will make everyone’s life easier,” Paul said. “The question is whether they do it now or promise us next week. But if it’s a promise in writing, we’d probably accept that.”