Senate Joins House in Passing Stopgap Bill: Congress Update

The Senate followed the House in passing a 48-hour continuing resolution to fund federal agencies through at least the weekend while talks on a coronavirus relief package continue. Current government funding expires at midnight Friday.

The extra time gives lawmakers the chance to finalize a deal on Covid-19 relief and government funding through next September.

A dispute over an effort led by Republican Senator Pat Toomey to codify the phase-out of Federal Reserve emergency lending facilities at year-end remains one of the key sticking points on the coronavirus deal. Democrats say Toomey’s provision would limit the Fed’s ability to respond to future crises and is the biggest obstacle to getting a deal on the relief package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy have been speaking through the week to resolve these final issues.

Other Developments:

Senate Clears Stopgap Bill as Relief Talks Continue (6:57 p.m.)

The Senate followed the House in approving a stopgap spending bill Friday evening, averting any potential federal government shutdown into the weekend. The legislation now goes to President Donald Trump for signature before funding lapses at midnight Friday.

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who had threatened to hold up another such continuing resolution when the current one was cleared last Friday, said he wouldn’t block the bill.

Sanders said he withdrew his objection because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s commitment not to adjourn the chamber until a Covid-19 relief package is passed. Sanders had been pressing for inclusion of $1,200 stimulus checks in that package.

House Passes Stopgap; Senate Action Uncertain (5:51 p.m.)

The House approved a stopgap funding measure through midnight Sunday while lawmakers rushed to finish work on a pandemic relief package, but it was unclear whether the Senate can act in time to avert a partial government shutdown after midnight on Friday.

The bill passed the House on a 320-60 vote.

Thune said Senate leaders would attempt to get unanimous consent to quickly pass the stopgap bill. But some senators have indicated they might block action on the temporary funding bill because of disputes over some provisions of the relief proposal.

“Hopefully we don’t get any objections,” Thune told reporters.

Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, one of the senators who expressed reservations about the process, said he wouldn’t block the bill in the Senate.

House Plans Stopgap Through Sunday Midnight (3:57 p.m.)

The House will vote on a stopgap measure to fund the government through midnight on Sunday, giving negotiators time to finalize the coronavirus relief package and a spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year, through Sept. 30.

“The American people urgently need coronavirus relief and this short stopgap bill will allow bipartisan, bicameral negotiators to complete their work on this important issue,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said in a statement.

Without a temporary funding measure, a partial government shutdown looms after midnight Friday. It is not clear if the Senate will be able to pass the stopgap in time. -- Erik Wasson

Senate Virus Relief Vote Could Slip to Next Week (3:10 p.m.)

Thune said the Senate will try to pass a stopgap measure to fund the government for at least 48 hours while negotiators try to come to agreement on virus relief and a spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year through Sept. 30.

“I was thinking the best-case scenario of getting something voted on was Sunday, but it may be later than that,” Thune said, adding that closing the deal today would be a “triumph of hope over experience.”

He said the future of Fed facilities, which Republicans saw as temporary, continues to be an issue, as well as different ways to get resources to states. He said people are “anxious to get this done, but it’s just arduous work.”

“It’s coming together,” Thune said. “It’s just taking time.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget is coordinating with federal agencies to prepare for a possible funding lapse, a senior administration official who requested anonymity said Friday. The current stopgap funds expire at midnight.

House Leaders Say They’ll Act to Avert Shutdown (1:49 p.m.)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said “we’ll keep the government open” when asked whether the House will pass a continuing resolution with temporary funding for federal agencies to get past Friday’s midnight deadline. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also said he would vote for a short stopgap bill and he’s “not for a shutdown in any shape or form.”

Hoyer, who is responsible for setting the floor schedule, said the House will recess until 5 p.m. He said the options for Friday night include recessing again, voting on a final deal if leaders can come to an agreement or passing a stopgap bill, which could be done without a recorded vote if no House member objects. At that point, the question would be whether the Senate can also act before midnight.

Hoyer blamed Senate Republicans for holding up the virus relief deal over Toomey’s provision to end some of the Fed’s emergency-lending authority, which would limit the incoming Biden administration.

“Right now what I think the Republicans are doing is trying to get an advantage against Biden in the next administration,” Hoyer said. “That’s what this Toomey amendment is about.”

Hoyer also said he opposes including a waiver that would allow Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for Defense secretary, to serve in the cabinet just four years after he retired from the military. Democrats were considering adding Austin’s waiver to the final spending bill, an issue that came up in negotiations over the year-end package, according to a person familiar.

Hoyer said a waiver should be considered only after debate and a specific Senate vote on that issue. Lawmakers are in a tough spot because Congress already granted a waiver for President Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general.

“I’m not looking for it,” Hoyer said about including the waiver in the virus relief and spending package. “I think the Austin waiver is a very serious issue. And I think it ought to be debated.”

Pelosi postponed her press conference, which was scheduled for 2 p.m. -- Billy House, Roxana Tiron and Erik Wasson

Senator Threatens Stopgap Over Stimulus Checks (12:46 p.m.)

Hawley said he’ll block another stopgap measure to fund the government unless a final pandemic relief bill is finished and he can see that it includes direct payments for struggling Americans.

“I am not prepared to sign off on a CR until I know what’s going on,” he said, referring to the so-called continuing resolution that leaders would need to keep unfunded agencies operating for a few days until the relief package is done. “Direct assistance has got to be in there.”

Government spending authority for most agencies expires at midnight, and talks on a stimulus package are down to the wire with no bill completed yet.

Hawley on Friday called on the full Senate to agree by unanimous consent to vote on his proposal with Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for $1,200 payments. They were thwarted by Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, who objected because he said the plan is too costly and would add further to the rising U.S. budget deficit.

Hawley said he’s “not ready to commit“ to supporting the $600 payments that congressional leaders say will likely be in the final deal, although he left open the possibility. -- Laura Litvan

Finance Chairman Sees Tax Extenders in Final Bill (11:39 a.m.)

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley said some expiring tax breaks would get extended in a year-end bill that congressional leaders are trying to combine with the coronavirus aid package.

Tax credits for wind and solar energy, tax breaks for beer brewers and wine makers and industry-specific benefits, including those for race horses and the movie industry, are among the more than 30 tax provisions, known as extenders, that are set to expire at the end of the year. Many of the provisions have bipartisan support.

“What will get done I can’t tell you for sure. But if we have a Covid package, we’re going to have extenders,” Grassley told reporters Thursday. -- Laura Davison

Toomey Continues Fight on Fed Facility (9:27 a.m.)

A stalemate over the extension of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs continues to be an obstacle in reaching a final deal on the economic relief package, according to a congressional aide familiar with the talks.

Toomey and other GOP lawmakers are pushing to include a measure in the legislation that would require all lending programs approved in the March Cares Act to end at the close of this month. Democrats are objecting to the measure, saying Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has the authority to extend the central bank programs, which are still needed amid the ongoing pandemic.

Toomey says his provision would only make explicitly clear what the Cares Act already requires: that the emergency lending programs for small businesses, state and local governments and credit markets end by Dec. 31, 2020. Democrats say that interpretation isn’t correct. They won a small victory yesterday when the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, agreed with their view that the lending programs could continue past the end of this year.

“Legal experts, senior banking officials, and former Republican and Democratic regulatory officials all agree: the proposal to pull back on the Fed’s 13(3) authority would set a terrible precedent, hurt the Fed’s independence, and weaken its ability to respond quickly to future crises,” Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said in a statement Friday.

The central bank’s 13(3) authority refers to the power to set up emergency credit facilities. -- Erik Wasson and Laura Davison

Short Shutdown Possible Amid Disputes (2:00 a.m.)

The federal government faces the possibility of a partial weekend shutdown because of disputes over some of the details in a pandemic relief plan, Thune said.

Congress still doesn’t have legislation for the relief plan, which leaders plan to attach to a $1.4 trillion bill that would fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The government is currently operating on stopgap funding that expires Friday. If the House and Senate need more time to process the legislation, another short-term funding bill would be needed.

But Thune, who is the chief GOP vote-counter in the Senate, said some lawmakers, who he didn’t name, may object in order to push their own priorities in the bill. That would leave the government without funding, though the White House budget office has legal discretion to avoid the start of federal worker furloughs if funding is likely to pass in the near future.

“If it’s for a very short amount of time on a weekend, hopefully it’s not going to be something that would be all that harmful,” Thune told reporters. “The preferable route is to keep the government open and get this done and get it done quickly.”

Republican Senator John Cornyn said a shutdown, even if the effects were limited, would be “unnecessary self-inflicted damage.”

“I know people are working to get this thing done and wrapped up as soon as they reasonably can,” Cornyn said. “But adding another element of chaos and challenge doesn’t seem prudent.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said leaders will decide by Friday morning whether to bring up a stopgap bill for a vote or if completing the omnibus bill in time for midnight is still possible. -- Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan

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