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First glance

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
Suicide bombings in Baghdad have killed at least 56 and injured over 200.  During day two of his three-day listening tour/policy review on Iraq, President Bush takes part in a video teleconference with military commanders and the outgoing US Ambassador to Iraq, then meets with the Vice President of Iraq.  Yesterday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that while the White House hopes that Bush can deliver his "new way forward plan" before Christmas, the timing is "not locked down" and the various reviews are not yet complete, per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell.

Congress may have left for the holidays, but two House races still remain somewhat less than settled.  One is the unusual case of Florida's 13th district, where Republican Vern Buchanan was declared the winner by 369 votes.  Democratic candidate Christine Jennings (D) has not only sought a new, court-ordered election, but is asking the soon-to-be Democrat-run House Administration Committee to seat her instead of Buchanan.  The committee is expected to make a recommendation in January.

The other race should be decided in a runoff today between Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D), in Texas' massive 23rd district.  Recent polls suggest that Rodriguez is closing in on Bonilla.  The contest has gotten some national attention because the roots of its competitiveness lie in Tom DeLay's controversial Texas redistricting, because it's the last race still technically unsettled, and because it's a close one that could result in one final blow to the GOP in the 2006 midterm elections.  The current breakdown in the House, counting Buchanan's win, is 232-202.

In a crowded special election last month, ordered after the US Supreme Court forced the state to redraw Bonilla's district in its decision on the Texas redistricting case, the incumbent grabbed 49% of the vote, just short of the majority he needed to avoid the runoff.  While Bonilla is probably the favorite (that 49% puts him in a much better position than the victorious Rep. William Jefferson was in before his runoff), his redrawn district isn't as friendly to him as it was before the Supreme Court intervened.

The San Antonio Express says the runoff  "either will be an exclamation point at the end of the Democratic takeover of Congress or a question mark hinting at the potential for a Republican comeback."  Bonilla "said Monday he considered his race the first of the 2008 cycle."  The Democratic House campaign committee has spent nearly $1 million to help Rodriguez and erase Bonilla's considerable fundraising advantage.  But they are also aware that Rodriguez is the same candidate who lost his primary in 2004, which knocked him out of Congress, and again in March 2006, when he was unable to gain his old seat back.

Congressional Democrats are attempting an end run around Republicans' effort to dump an array of spending bills on them come January and put them on the spot over their commitment to earmark reform.  Because the GOP-run Congress adjourned without completing 11 of the 13 appropriations bills that fund the government for this year, NBC's Ken Strickland reports, incoming Democratic leaders say they've been left with "fiscal mayhem" and won't deal with it, either.  Instead, they plan to scrap current budget proposals and keep spending for most federal programs and agencies at last year's levels.  "Unfortunately, there are no good options available to us to complete the unfinished work of the Republican Congress," said incoming Appropriations Committee chairs Robert Byrd and David Obey in a statement.

Such a move could have a far-reaching effect, Strickland says.  Many agencies and departments previously budgeted for increases this year would likely have to go without them.  And millions of dollars for special home-state projects -- a/k/a earmarks -- attached to those bills would be eliminated this year.  "We will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place," the statement says, "and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress."

Democratic leaders insist it's important to "clear the decks quickly" to focus on other funding priorities, specifically the President's 2008 budget (which they'll get in February) and another emergency funding request for the Iraq war of about $100 billion.  This will also allow them to start work on their "100 hours" agenda without being distracted by spending bills.  Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed off on the plan, saying, "It is not a perfect solution, but it is the best available given the fiscal mess the 109th Congress has left behind."