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Congress on the Clock for Stimulus

The Federal Reserve can apparently turn on a dime, cutting a key interest rate as stock markets around the world go into the tank. Don't expect such quick action from Congress.

House and Senate leaders are holding a meeting-fest this week, scheduling all manner of discussions, briefings, and sit-downs with President Bush and other administration officials to shape what they hope will be a bipartisan economic stimulus package. The leaders huddled with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office at 1 p.m. today Eastern time and are scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House later today.

Before the meeting with Paulson, Pelosi said the stimulus was an "urgent matter to deal with." Paulson called it "something we can hopefully get done quickly." And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'd like to have a bill done before Congress leaves town in less than a month for its President's Day recess, the week of Feb. 18.

Leaders are hopeful that all sides will go into these meetings with a rough idea of what they want, meaning it won't actually take long to sketch at least a rough outline of a compromise package.

"We'd like to get at least the components finalized by the end of this week," said a House Democratic leadership aide.

But it still looks like it will be at least a few weeks, if not more, before a bill might actually reach Bush's desk.

Here's the math: The House is only really in session tonight and tomorrow before the chamber's Republicans leave town Thursday for their annual retreat at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Next week's schedule will be similarly tight, as House Democrats have their own retreat down in Williamsburg, Va., from Wednesday through Friday.

On the Senate side, Republicans will hold a one-day retreat tomorrow over at the Library of Congress. And nothing of substance will likely get done next Monday, either, since that's when Bush will give his State of the Union address.

As of this moment, there has been no talk of canceling or re-scheduling any of those retreats to speed up work on the stimulus, according to leadership sources.

And even if all sides are able to reach a rough agreement by the end of this week, no one knows yet how a stimulus package will find its way to the House and Senate floors. The basic details will likely be worked out at the leadership level, but it is not clear whether the package would still move through the regular committee process with markups by the House Ways and Means or Senate Finance panels.

All that uncertainly means, in the most optimistic scenario, at least three weeks of work. So set your clocks to tick down to Feb. 15, the last day Congress is scheduled to be in before the President's Day recess. That could be a late night. And don't make any plans for that weekend.

By Ben Pershing  |  January 22, 2008; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , Branch vs. Branch , Purse Strings  
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