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Congress Delays Recess in Legislative Push


It's Saturday and it's August. Do you know where your member of Congress is?

Believe it or not, he or she may be at the House of Representatives, which is meeting even as we speak. The Senate started its summer recess last night. The House is expected to follow suit tonight or early tomorrow morning.


NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook is following the last-minute legislative frenzy. And hello, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: How are you, Jacki?

LYDEN: I guess not just the streets of Washington are boiling over today but the atmosphere in the House is pretty hot as well?

SEABROOK: It is. Jacki, it's pretty much partisan insanity. I mean, actually, Republicans have been throwing legislative grenades for several days, anything to throw a wrench in the works. For example, coming in this Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m., the very first thing the House did was vote on a Republican motion to adjourn.

It's just been crazy. And the whole political fight here is really over what will be said about this Congress. Democrats want to go home, tell their constituents about all the hard work they've done. Republicans want to show just how messy the House has been under the Democratic majority.


LYDEN: So in that atmosphere, did they get anything done?

SEABROOK: In fact, they have been working most of the day on an energy bill that focuses, for the first time, on conservation rather than new oil and natural gas drilling. It puts new higher efficiency standards in place for everything from federal buildings down to light bulbs. It will spark new ethanol production from corn and other crops. And it pays for all of these by, in fact, revoking many of the tax breaks Republicans passed in recent years for big oil and natural gas companies.

LYDEN: I would guess that some of these members are going to be hitting the county fairs and they're going to be talking about what they have left to do.

SEABROOK: That's true. That's true. But they still have - the House still has lots on its schedule today. I mean, leaders are determined to pass a massive federal spending bill to fund the Pentagon for the next year. That debate is likely to go well into the night. And then, the most contentious piece of legislation will come up - the bill to broaden the Bush administration's powers to listen in on telephone calls and other communications that are routed through the United States. This is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And you, Jacki, and listeners, will remember it's the subject of a lot of anger from Democrats and even legal scholars who say its courts who are bypassed illegally by Mr. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

President Bush says he needs broadened powers to protect the country from terrorist attacks and that the Congress must pass this bill before it leaves for break.

Jacki, the Senate did give him most of what he wanted last night, although, in a temporary bill - just six months. And the House is expected to bring it up before it leaves town.

LYDEN: Do they have to bring it up today?

SEABROOK: They don't have to. You know, your assumption is right there. The president - but the president really has a trump card. I mean, Democrat - the liberal Democrats would like their leaders to bring up a bill that doesn't give him quite as much powers for quite as long. But the president has the trump card. He has the power to call an emergency session of Congress if he wants to. And he's even hinted that he might do that if the House doesn't pass the FISA bill that he wants.

So here in the Capitol, the political thinking goes that if he were to do that, if he dragged Congress back to town to pass a bill to protect Americans in the middle of August, well, that wouldn't make the Democrats look too good.

LYDEN: Okay.

SEABROOK: So they're more likely, at this point, to give the president what he wants…

LYDEN: Okay.

SEABROOK: …than risk a big showdown.

LYDEN: There. Thank you so much. NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.