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Senate may consider spending bills this week

That seems to be the question of the hour as the Senate leadership tries to iron out differences over committee chairmanships and the numbers of Democrats and Republicans on committees.

Sources are speculating that once those differences are resolved Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, will bring up an omnibus spending bill that would roll the 11 un-passed appropriations bill into one measure to fund the government in Fiscal Year 2003.

The current Continuing Resolution or CR that has been keeping the government in business since the beginning of the new fiscal year last October is scheduled to expire on Jan. 31. The House, meanwhile, has gone into recess until Jan. 27 while the Senate works out its problems.

Washington observers are also speculating that if Frist does bring the omnibus spending bill to the floor, it will provide an opportunity for Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and others to attach disaster assistance amendments to the bill.

On Monday, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he supports an agricultural assistance bill.

Cochran, whose state was hit hard by heavy rains during peak harvest season last fall, did not provide any details about an assistance package. But sources say that Hunt Shipman, the new director of the Senate Agriculture Committee staff has been quietly working to put together an assistance package for the committee.

“I expect the Senate will have an opportunity to act on specific proposals for relief when we take up the appropriations bills,” Cochran said. “I think the Congress should respond by giving the president the authority to make assistance available in those areas where it is clearly needed.”

Sources say bringing the appropriations bill(s) to the floor will also give proponents of lower payment limits an opportunity to attach their legislation, a move that Cochran and other southern senators would oppose.

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