House and Senate leaders, who long ago abandoned hopes of sending Congress home before the first frost, decided yesterday to aim for adjournment by the weekend before Thanksgiving. Then they outlined a wrap-up agenda that could keep lawmakers here until Christmas.
After meeting to map Congress' workload for the rest of the year, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) told colleagues that the new target date for adjournment is Saturday, Nov. 21.
But they warned that a long fight over confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork and other struggles between the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress could delay adjournment well beyond Thanksgiving.
Congress can wind up work in the next six weeks unless "there's an attitude of obstruction by the White House or the Republican minority in the Senate," which has filibustered to block many Democratic initiatives, including ones begun by the House, Wright said.
Wright and Byrd also rolled out a lengthy list of "must" and "wish" legislation that includes most of the contentious issues that have faced the 100th Congress since it convened in January.
Topping their list was approval of appropriations bills for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, none of which has completed passage. A stopgap extension of current funding will last through Nov. 10, when Congress hopes to have passed spending bills for some agencies along with a catchall funding measure for the rest.
Other major items include deficit-reduction legislation that could contain some tax increases, a trade bill, expansion of Medicare to cover costs of catastrophic illnesses and a defense authorization bill that is expected to include arms-control provisions that will trigger a veto confrontation with the White House.
Also mentioned by one or both leaders was legislation dealing with reauthorization of housing programs, farm credit, air travel regulation, veterans benefits, reauthorization of independent counsels to prosecute official wrongdoing and indemnification of World War II Japanese-American detainees.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) agreed with Byrd on setting Nov. 21 as a target, observing that otherwise Congress would probably still be in session on Dec. 21.
But then Dole added several items to the Byrd-Wright list, including legislation dealing with older Americans, clean-air requirements, nuclear power regulation and nuclear waste, drug testing, lobbying restrictions, food safety and the Export-Import Bank.
Dole also noted Congress will have to deal with the controversial issues of aid to Nicaraguan contras and arms sales to Saudi Arabia if the administration, as expected, sends up proposals on those two matters.
In addition, along with the Bork nomination, the Senate faces two Cabinet appointments (nomination of C. William Verity Jr. to succeed the late Malcolm Baldrige as secretary of commerce and a successor to Elizabeth Hanford Dole as secretary of transportation) and a possible fight over war powers in the Persian Gulf. House leaders did not mention the war-powers issue, and it is expected to come before the House only if the Senate acts on it.
While warning that a continued fight over Bork could delay adjournment, Byrd indicated the Senate will stay around as long as necessary to consider another choice if the administration abandons the Bork nomination. If there is another nomination, it must come quickly, Dole added.