Government Faces Risk of Weekend Shutdown, GOP Senator Says

The federal government faces the possibility of a partial weekend shutdown, the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, said as top leaders in both parties work to complete a pandemic-relief deal that will be tied to a massive government spending measure.

The government is operating on stopgap funding that expires at midnight Friday. With negotiations on the aid package dragging on, lawmakers were looking to another short-term measure to buy more time to get it wrapped up and passed by Congress.

But Thune, the GOP’s vote-counter, said some senators are objecting to emerging items in the stimulus measure may not go along with another funding extension. He didn’t name any specific lawmakers.

“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.”

When there is a lapse in government funding, the White House budget office has legal discretion to avoid the start of federal worker furloughs for some period of time as long as government funding bill is likely to pass in the near future.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who is responsible for the floor schedule, told reporters that this budget office flexibility means the real deadline to fund the government is Monday.

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.

Friday Decision

“Essentially the ruling is if you think it’s going to stay open, you’re going to pass something by Monday, they don’t shut down government,” he said. “We’ll have to make a decision tomorrow morning and figure out what we’re going to do.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders continued their negotiations over a roughly $900 billion pandemic relief package that both sides say they want to finish quickly. It’s expected to include more than $300 billion to help small businesses, vaccine distribution funds and $600 in direct payments to individuals.

Lawmakers say there are still a number of details to be ironed out, including food aid and termination of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program and the use of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for pandemic-related disasters. Talks are also hung up on whether the relief bill needs to extend an existing an eviction moratorium if it also includes adequate funds to help renters.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers, including Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, are saying $600 direct payments are far too small to meet the needs of Americans struggling in a historic crisis.

“There’s still just a lot of loose ends we’re trying to tie down,” Thune said. “Getting it all lined up at the same time has proven to be pretty hard. But I’m still hopeful.”

The $1.4 trillion year-long federal spending bill is largely completed, and delays on the virus-relief package are what threatens a shutdown.

The House could move quickly toward a vote once the legislation is written. But the timetable is tight to also get it through the Senate by Friday night. McConnell has told GOP lawmakers to be prepared to work over the weekend.

Despite Thune’s concerns, another senior Republican involved in working out details said he expects another stopgap measure can pass if it’s needed.

“I don’t think we’ll have a shutdown,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said. He added that the broad spending bill that funds most federal agencies is ready for consideration.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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