Senate Passes Stopgap Funding Bill to Avert Federal Shutdown
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Senate Passes Stopgap Funding Bill to Avert Federal Shutdown

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The Senate passed a one-week stopgap spending bill Friday, giving President Donald Trump just enough time to sign it and avert a government shutdown after current funding runs out at midnight.

The Senate voice vote approving the legislation came after several senators tried to hold the process up, seeking to force votes on unrelated issues. Those objections were overcome Friday, and the chamber’s approval, after the House passed it on a 343-67 vote Wednesday, sends the bill to Trump’s desk.

The risk of a shutdown next week hasn’t been eliminated. Senator Bernie Sanders, who briefly held up Friday’s vote, said on the Senate floor that he will renew his objection, and won’t back down, if Congress doesn’t approve $1,200 stimulus payments for most Americans. He is joined in that effort by GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“Maybe we’ll have Christmas Eve together,” Sanders told reporters earlier.

The short-term spending bill was necessary because none of the 12 annual appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 have been enacted. Negotiations on an omnibus package wrapping them together haven’t been completed, and now face a Dec. 18 deadline.

Double Duty

Lawmakers are also hoping to use the omnibus bill as a vehicle for more than $900 billion in coronavirus-related aid.

The virus-relief package has been the subject of months of fruitless negotiations, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday both said they see progress toward a deal.

Even so, there is still no agreement on the provisions to shield businesses from Covid-19 related lawsuits that Republicans want and to distribute $160 billion in proposed state and local aid that GOP members oppose. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday again suggested leaving those items out of the stimulus initiative.

The broader spending bill appears to be more on track. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican said it probably won’t be finished until next week. He said the main sticking point is how to handle $12.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs to upgrade its health care for veterans.

Remaining Hurdles

Shelby has said he agrees with Democrats that the funding should be in addition to the $1.4 trillion budget cap for the year, but the White House and House Republicans oppose the move, citing deficit concerns.

“I think the obstacle right now is at least a hurdle to get over the VA,” Shelby said Friday. “And I think we could see open field after that, but maybe not.”

Other points of contention involve $2 billion for Trump’s border wall, as well as funding for immigration raids and detention. Shelby said appropriators are nearing an agreement on that issue, but it’s not yet clear whether it will “satisfy everybody.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing the Homeland Security Department, told reporters he thinks differences on the wall and on immigration can be resolved.

“I don’t anticipate that’ll be a problem,” he said. “I think we could have gotten this done by the 11th if we hadn’t gotten into the habit of settling deadlines and then never meeting them.”

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