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Senate stays in session to block Bush recess appointments

  • Story Highlights
  • Senate will hold "pro forma" sessions during two-week Thanksgiving break
  • President can fill vacancies without Senate approval when lawmakers are in recess
  • Senate majority leader said he had been told recess appointments would be made
  • War funding, farm bills among major legislation left on table
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senators have left town for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the Senate will technically stay in session -- a move that keeps President Bush from making appointments while lawmakers are in recess.

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The Senate will hold "pro forma sessions" while lawmakers are gone for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he would schedule "pro forma" sessions during the two-week break, even though lawmakers will be absent and no business will be conducted.

The sessions are expected to last less than 30 seconds -- the clerk will announce who the presiding officer is, and then that senator will gavel the session closed.

The Constitution gives a president the power to fill vacancies without the Senate's confirmation when the legislative body is in recess. Such appointees can serve without confirmation through the rest of the current session of Congress, which ends in January 2009.

Bush has used the power before to install nominees whose confirmation Senate Democrats had blocked. The most notable instance came in August 2005 when he angered Democrats by naming John Bolton as U.N. ambassador.

"My hope is that this will prompt the president to see that it is in our mutual interests for the nominations process to get back on track," Reid said in a statement.

Reid said the Bush administration had informed him that several recess appointments would be made during the Thanksgiving break. At the same time, Reid said the White House has been unwilling to confirm nominations Democratic leaders have made to agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"I indicated I would be willing to confirm various appointments if the administration would agree to move on Democratic appointments," he said. "They would not make that commitment. As a result, I am keeping the Senate in pro forma [session] to prevent recess appointments until we get this process on track."

Asked Friday if Bush planned on making any recess appointments, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "I have nothing for you on that."

Fratto added, "We don't talk about or speculate on personnel appointments until we're ready to announce them."

The lawmakers left for their break Friday without passing any major bills that they were trying to get done before the break.

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. The White House and congressional Republicans -- who want the money without strings attached -- are pushing for votes in December.

The long-sought $286 billion farm bill, which sets the nation's agriculture policies and provides for subsidies to 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 tax should be abolished but can't agree on how, or whether, to pay for it.

The children's health insurance bill known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, which Bush vetoed once, is bogged down in the House. House Democrats have been unable to persuade wavering Republicans to agree to a proposal that would expand the program and win enough support to override Bush's veto. There are enough votes to override it in the Senate.

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

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

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The White House quickly rejected a proposal from Reid to halve the extra funding to $11 billion. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, floated a counter offer, suggesting Republicans might go along with the extra funding of domestic programs if Democrats agree to pass the war money free of conditions.

There has been no official response yet from Democratic leaders, but one Democratic aide said he didn't think his bosses would accept Kyl's proposal. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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