Talks to Keep the Government Open Advance, but No Signs of a Stimulus Deal

Talks to Keep the Government Open Advance, but No Signs of a Stimulus Deal

Reuters/Hannah McKay

Congressional staffers are making progress in talks over an omnibus funding package for the federal government ahead of a December 11 deadline, Politico reported Tuesday. Appropriators are working on a 12-bill, bicameral agreement that could win support from both parties, and negotiators are reportedly close to defining the size of elements of the spending package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was encouraged by the progress so far. “Our colleagues on the committee and their counterparts in the House need to continue their bicameral discussions and settle on top-line dollar amounts for each separate bill,” he said. “I hope they will be able to reach this broad agreement by the end of this very week.”

McConnell also said that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were in agreement on the issue. “The Speaker would like to do that. I would like to do that,” McConnell said when asked about the prospects for the 2021 omnibus.

President Trump could be a bit of a wildcard in the process. McConnell said he hoped the administration would accept whatever agreement congressional negotiators can reach, but the White House has been silent so far. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) — who reported that “extensive talks” are occurring and that “some basic agreements in principle” are in place — said that the president has not offered support for the potential omnibus package, nor for a possible continuing resolution that would be necessary if the omnibus talks fail.

“We understand that the president has a powerful voice,” Shelby said. “Let’s see what we can accomplish first.”

Pelosi and Schumer ask McConnell to restart stimulus talks: It’s still looking unlikely that a coronavirus relief bill will pass before the New Year. “There are no conversations right now about another round of Covid relief. None,” Politico’s Jake Sherman reported Tuesday. “The White House is silent. The Hill is quiet. That means no new programs, no new money for Americans before the holiday season.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Tuesday asked McConnell to come to the negotiating table “so that we can work towards a bipartisan, bicameral Covid-19 relief agreement to crush the virus and save American lives.” The two sides remain far apart on the size and details of another relief package.

If lawmakers are unable to agree, numerous pandemic-related aid programs will expire at the end of December. They include two emergency unemployment programs, the moratorium on evictions, aid for state and local governments and student loan forbearance. “In other words,” Sherman said, “a huge safety net for Americans is going to be yanked away at the end of 2020, and Congress isn’t preparing much of anything to keep people from plummeting.”

The best hope for passing at least some aid may be by attaching it to the omnibus spending package currently under negotiation, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a senior appropriator, said Monday. “There seems to be more interest in trying to move an omnibus and more serious discussion about that than I've heard about a Covid package,” Blunt told reporters.