The Senate on Friday approved a one-week stopgap bill to fund the government and avoid a partial shutdown after midnight, buying lawmakers more time to negotiate a coronavirus relief plan and finalize a $1.4 trillion spending package for the rest of the fiscal year.
The short-term spending bill, cleared by voice vote after the House approved it on Wednesday, sends the bill to President Trump’s desk. It follows an earlier extension of government funding through December 11, which passed in September. Both stopgap measures were made necessary because Congress has yet to enact any of the 12 annual appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began in October.
Negotiations on the Covid aid package remain mired in uncertainty — and the risk of a shutdown has just been punted to the end of next week.
The Senate vote on the spending bill followed hours of negotiations with senators who had threatened to hold up the bill, Roll Call’s David Lerman reports:
“Leaders beat back efforts to attach measures over military policy, blocking lawmakers' pay during a budgetary impasse, and offering a new round of tax rebate checks to households during the COVID-19 pandemic. …
“Another holdup was averted when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., relented on his push to strip troop withdrawal language from the unrelated defense authorization bill. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., backed off a threat to hold up the bill if it didn't include rebate checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.”
Sanders pushes for stimulus checks: Sanders has teamed up with GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri to push for another round of stimulus payments, and the two senators warned Friday that they will continue to press for a vote on the checks next week. “If I have anything to say about it — and I guess I do — we’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we make sure that we provide for the millions of families in this country who are suffering,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.
What’s next: Negotiators have just days left to finalize the full-year omnibus spending bill and write the legislation, or another stopgap measure will be needed. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) reportedly said that the spending bill likely won’t be finished until next week and that the main sticking point remaining involves how to handle $12.5 billion for a Department of Veterans Affairs program that gives some veterans access to private care.
Congressional leaders still hope to attach a coronavirus relief package to the spending legislation, but the two parties remain split over key elements of that plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Friday reiterated his call for dropping contentious provisions covering aid to state and local governments and liability protection from pandemic-related lawsuits from the package, but Democrats again dismissed the suggestion, insisting that it was critical to support states facing budget crunches.