Pelosi, McConnell Staff Discuss Spending to Avoid Shutdown

Congress is inching toward a deal on a $1.4 trillion spending bill that would avert a Dec. 11 government shutdown, with aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meeting Thursday to hash out details.

The U.S. government has been relying on a stopgap spending bill since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, and that runs out next month. Last week, Senate Republicans released 12 draft appropriations bills that could be reconciled with 12 House companion measures into a giant omnibus bill.

“It’s our hope -- and I think this is the speaker’s view as well -- that we can come together on an omnibus and pass it,” McConnell said Wednesday. “I believe that that’s the preference of the White House as well.”

The talks on the spending plan are on a separate track from stalled negotiations on a Covid-19 relief bill. Senate Republicans say they can support $500 billion in stimulus now, while Democrats have sought a $2.4 trillion rescue package. Some lawmakers in both parties have suggested using the spending measure to include limited pandemic relief provisions.

During the meeting, the staff members discussed assistance measures tied to Covid-19 separately, a senior Democratic aide said without giving details. A House Republican aide said that expiring programs related to the pandemic such as extended unemployment insurance and the Paycheck Protection Program were on the agenda, along with other of expiring government programs.

Mostly Done

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby and top Democrat Patrick Leahy have said that about 90% of the omnibus bill is already agreed to. They, along with House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey and Ranking Member Kay Granger have been working toward a deal this week on the outline of the bill that would detail top-line levels for each of the 12 component bills.

President Donald Trump’s insistence on funding for a border wall with Mexico precipitated a 35-day government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019. Republicans are now proposing $2 billion for a wall, an item that Democrats continue to resist.

Staff for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were slated to be in Thursday’s meeting, according to senior Democratic aides.

McCarthy on Thursday complained to reporters that small businesses across the country are struggling, and facing further lock downs “with no help from Washington.” He called on House Democrats to join with Republicans in freeing up $138 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which could help small businesses keep staff on payrolls.

“There’s no more time to delay. We must act now -- we are in session,” said McCarthy. He said 23 House Democrats had signed a letter in September pledging to join in pushing for such a vote if no coronavirus relief deal was reached.

“This could be done today and help could be on its way,” said McCarthy.

Democratic leaders, along with President-elect Joe Biden, have called for a much more comprehensive response, noting the resurgence in coronavirus cases to record levels.

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