WASHINGTON - The Senate plans crucial votes Saturday on two of the year's most incendiary political issues: repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays and lesbians and revamping immigration laws to help put children of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Opponents have blocked both measures for months. The Senate will try to cut off debate on each bill, a maneuver that requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators.
Should either bill fail to get 60, it's dead, probably for years, since Republicans will control the House of Representatives for two years starting next month. Both measures were campaign promises of President Obama, and neither is expected to get many GOP votes.
On another matter, after the collapse Thursday night of an almost $1.3 trillion catchall spending bill, negotiators have turned their attention to devising a stopgap measure to fund the government's day-to-day operations through February.
The House passed a stopgap measure to fund the government through Tuesday - so that lawmakers could have a weekend at home with their families but then return to Washington for wrap-up votes in the days before Christmas. That would give House and Senate negotiators time to come up with a fresh spending bill to fund the government through early next year.
Senators also are debating whether to ratify a new U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, an Obama initiative that has been slowed by Republicans who contend that it would limit U.S. missile-defense development. The Pentagon denies that.
Many Republicans were outraged that the votes were even being taken on the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal and the immigration measure. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) protested that the action was "clearly in keeping with the other side's political agenda."
The "don't ask, don't tell" bill is the better bet to move ahead. The House passed the measure Wednesday by a largely partisan 250-175 vote.
The bill's Senate cosponsor, Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.), said he was confident he had the votes to end debate and move to a final vote, since at least three Republicans are expected to join virtually all the Senate's 56 Democrats and two independents who support it.
The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, aimed at changing immigration law, faces more opposition.
The bill would allow illegal immigrants younger than 30 who entered the United States before age 16, lived here for five years without committing serious crimes, graduated from high school, and attended college or joined the military to be eligible for legal residency after meeting other criteria.
Some Republicans were angry that the votes on immigration and gays in the military interrupt the New START arms-control debate.
"I think emotions around here are slightly frayed, and I think everybody kind of wants this session to end," said Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.). "It's my hope it will end with us doing what's necessary on the START treaty. I think that would be good just to clear that up."