Senate Passes One-Week Funding Bill to Avert Shutdown
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.
Defying Trump, Senate Passes $741 Billion Defense Bill
In defiance of a veto threat from President Trump, the Senate on Friday easily passed the $741 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021.
Following an overwhelming 335-78 result in the House earlier this week, the Senate’s 84-13 vote provides more than the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto, should Trump choose to reject the bill.
The president has issued numerous veto threats on the NDAA, which defines spending levels and sets priorities for defense on an annual basis. Trump has demanded that the bill include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which some Republicans say allows tech firms to censor conservative voices. Other provisions, including a requirement that military bases that honor Confederate leaders be renamed, have also been cited by the president as reasons he would issue a veto.
Senate maneuvering: In a rare break with the White House, the bill had the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said he “would encourage all our colleagues to vote to advance this must-pass bill,” despite its faults. McConnell brought the bill to the floor for a vote following a delay created by his fellow Kentuckian, Sen. Rand Paul, who protested a provision in the bill that limits the president’s ability to remove troops from Afghanistan.
The 13 senators who voted against the bill were split between the parties. The Republicans were expressing support for the president, according to The New York Times, while the Democrats were protesting the topline spending number. Three senators — Republicans Lindsey Graham and Mike Rounds, and Democrat Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect — did not vote. The two Republican lawmakers facing runoff elections in Georgia, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, voted in favor of the bill, raising questions about Trump’s support for their reelection campaigns in the weeks ahead.
In an odd twist, support of the bill by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was connected to the recently announced deal that normalized relations between Israel and Morocco. According to Axios, Inhofe’s defiance of Trump’s demand to use the NDAA to repeal legal protections for tech firms led to the president embracing international agreement, which had been put on hold due to Inhofe’s opposition.
What’s next: Trump must decide whether to sign or veto the bill. Should he veto it directly, lawmakers would have to vote again to override the veto, with the House going first. While the vote this week suggests Congress will have plenty of votes for an override, the outcome is not guaranteed, with some lawmakers likely flipping one way or another in response to political pressure.
Another option is a pocket veto, in which Trump would simply allow the bill to expire unsinged after 10 days (excluding Sundays). The outcome of that maneuver depends on whether Congress is still in session; if so, the bill automatically becomes law, but if not, the bill expires. “That means,” said The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian, “unless Trump signs the bill into law swiftly, Congress could be forced to stay in session through Christmas, when lawmakers are usually out of town.”
Column of the Day: Skip the Stimulus Checks
Conservative Bloomberg columnist Karl W. Smith argues that as Congress debates another Covid-relief package, it should skip a second round of stimulus checks, not because they make no sense but because other divisive provisions — including liability protections for businesses, aid for state and local governments and a federal boost to unemployment insurance — are more important.
“From a purely economic perspective, the right solution is easy: all of the above,” Smith writes. “From a political standpoint, however, that’s unrealistic. Including all four provisions would push the overall price tag to more than $1 trillion, a red line for a crucial bloc of Republican senators. Ideally, those senators would realize that the risks of doing too little right now far outweigh the risks of doing too much.”
Since Republicans show no sign of giving up their objections to spending more, the stimulus checks should go and lawmakers should focus on protecting the most vulnerable workers, Smith says. “What should concern Congress are those Americans who, through no fault of their own, are unable to work amid the pandemic,” he writes. "Leaving these workers without crucial support will only fuel a backlash against the lockdown measures that are necessary to minimize the effect of what is (hopefully) the last wave of the pandemic. Economically and morally, Congress’s most important task is building a bridge for these workers between now and when a vaccine is widely available.”
Quote of the Day
“Mutual aid between unemployed people can only go so far. People are donating $5 to each other’s GoFundMes in a perpetual circle just trying to survive.”
– Lighting designer Stephanie Freed, quoted in a New York Times piece on the “slow moving disaster” of the coronavirus recession. Freed told the Times she hasn’t worked since March, and her unemployment benefits from the state of New York ran out weeks ago, leaving her with only the federal pandemic extension as a source of income.
- How Many Americans Will Die of Covid-19 Before the Vaccine Reaches Scale? – Philip Bump, Washington Post
- State and Local Governments Need Help. Pass COVID Relief Now – Jefferey Clemens et al, Bulwark
- Congress Needs to Make State Aid Automatic – Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg
- Trump Tries to Kill Covid Relief – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- Covid Meds Are Scarce, but Not for Trump Cronies – Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
- Liability Shield Will Hurt the Public and Taxpayers – Stephen Ellis, The Hill
- Biden Reminds Progressives That They Will Have to Press Him Harder – Paul Waldman, Washington Post
- The Bogus Arguments Against Student Debt Relief – Robert Kuttner, American Prospect
- The Window Is Closing for Also-Ran Vaccine Makers – James Paton at al, Bloomberg Businessweek
- How to Rediscover the Art of Bipartisan Deal Making – Ephrat Livni, New York Times
- We Must Do More to Stop Dangerous Doctors in a Pandemic – Dr. Richard A. Friedman, New York Times
- The Emergency Funding Ideas That Could Help Keep Transit Alive – Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab
- Everything We’ve Learned About Modern Economic Theory Is Wrong – Brandon Kochkodin, Bloomberg