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Congress begins holiday break with much work undone

  • Story Highlights
  • War funding, farm bills among major legislation left on table
  • Congress will take two-week break for Thanksgiving
  • Vote on omnibus spending bill expected before Christmas break
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By Ted Barrett
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lawmakers left for their two-week Thanksgiving recess Friday without passing any of the major bills they were trying to get done before the break.

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Senators and representatives leave the Capitol with much work left on the table.

An effort to pass a temporary funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stalled on procedural votes.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate -- who want to make the money conditional on setting dates for bringing troops home -- indicated they don't expect to return to the issue until early next year, although the White House and congressional Republicans -- who want the money without strings attached -- are pushing for votes in December.

The Defense Department has said it might raid other accounts and possibly lay off civilian employees to pay for the wars if it doesn't get the funding soon.

The long-sought $286 billion farm bill, which sets the nation's agriculture policies and provides for billions in subsidies to the nation's farmers, also stalled on a procedural vote Friday after senators spent two weeks of floor time unable to agree on a set of amendments to the otherwise popular bill.

Competing proposals to stave off the effect of the alternative minimum tax from millions of middle-class voters this tax season is stuck in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, who agree the AMT should be abolished but can't agree on how, or whether, to pay for it.

The children's health insurance bill known as SCHIP, which has been vetoed once by President Bush, is bogged down in the House, where Democrats are unable to persuade wavering Republicans to agree to a proposal that would expand the program and win enough support to override the veto. There are enough votes to override in the Senate.

Most of the spending bills Congress was supposed to pass before October will be wrapped into one "omnibus" bill to be voted on sometime in December before Congress recesses again for Christmas.

The Democratic-authored spending bills are stalled largely because they are $22 billion more than what Bush said he would agree to spend this year.

A proposal Thursday from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to halve the extra funding to $11 billion was quickly rejected by the White House. But a counter-offer was floated Friday by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, who suggested if Democrats agree to pass the war money free of conditions, Republicans might go along with the extra money Democrats want for domestic programs.

There has been no official response from Democratic leaders, but perhaps in a sign of what might be expected when Congress returns next month, one Democratic leadership aide said he didn't think Kyl's proposal would be accepted by his bosses. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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