Will the Senate Stay 'Til Christmas?

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The Senate is busy, these days--very busy--and the prospect looms dimly that senators will remain in session past Christmas, breaking for one day to go home to their families.

That's an unlikely scenario, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has signaled willingness to do it, and he doesn't want to hear "sanctimonious" lectures from Republicans on the meaning of Christmas. Democratic leaders will keep the body in session on Christmas Eve day if they have to, returning for session the next week, according to a leadership aide.

Unless the Senate finishes its business next week (which it probably will), the only deadline is January 3, when the 111th Congress must end and the 112th must begin, with senators-elect sworn in and proceedings opened anew.

Here's what the Senate has to finish:

  • The DREAM Act immigration bill to give a shot at legal residency to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. at age 15 of younger. Democrats will attempt to overcome a GOP filibuster Saturday morning, needing 60 votes to cut off debate. If they succeed, 30 hours of debate will be required before a final vote early next week.
  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. If the DREAM vote fails on Saturday, the Senate will move immediately to a bill repealing the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Once again, if they get 60 votes, 30 hours of debate will be required, preventing the Senate from taking up other business until after a final vote early next week.
  • Funding the government. Republican senators objected to the omnibus spending bill that would continue funding the federal government for another year, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to take it off the table for the time being. The House passed a temporary resolution to keep funding the government until Tuesday, buying the Senate some time.
  • The New START nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia. The Senate is in the midst of considering START, with five amendments having been filed and one having been queued up for a vote. This is a particularly laborious process, with unlimited debate on each amendment. At some point next week, when Republicans feel they've had enough time to debate it, Democrats will attempt to end debate and ratify the treaty.

It's a lot to do, and the Senate only has a few days to do it. But never underestimate a lawmaker's desire to go home for Christmas, take a break from DC that lasts longer than two or three days, and stop this lawmaking nonsense if only for a week or so.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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