Lame-duck lawmakers returned to Washington this week with some major issues on their plate but just a few legislative days left to address them.
Most pressingly, a short-term agreement to fund the government expires on December 11, leaving Congress less than two weeks to either pass an omnibus spending package or agree on another stopgap resolution to keep the doors open through early next year. Democratic and Republican negotiators have agreed to topline numbers on a full-year, $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, but the details still need to be hammered out. Potentially problematic issues include money for President Trump’s border wall, abortion funding and the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders.
Additional spending for Covid-19 relief and economic stimulus provides another potential hurdle. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remain miles apart on a comprehensive package, and there’s little hope that one would pass before the New Year, but some relief spending could be added to a government funding bill. Emergency unemployment programs that expire at the end of December could be renewed, as could a small business loan program. Other possibilities include funding for vaccines and extensions of the student loan payment moratorium, eviction protections and paid family leave benefits.
Gaveling the Senate into session Monday, McConnell said his agenda included funding the government, finishing the annual defense authorization bill, and confirming judges to the federal bench. The senate leader said he saw no reason not to pass another pandemic relief package in what appears to be “the last chapter of this battle,” with funds for vaccine distribution, small business loans and unemployment assistance. McConnell also blamed “obstruction” by Democrats for the failure to pass a new aid package thus far.
Senators talk relief: A bipartisan group of senators is trying to revive talks about the next coronavirus relief package, Politico’s Burgess Everett reported Monday. “There are several groups of discussions,” Everett said. “Among the senators involved in them are Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) .... Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin has also been involved in some discussion.” There are no guarantees that the talks will lead to anything, of course, and few signs so far of compromise on the key issue of spending levels.