House OKs CR Spending Bill

September 23, 2020

On Sep. 21, House Democrats released a bill to fund the government until Dec. 11, but Senate Republicans quickly criticized it, leaving the path to a deal to prevent a shutdown unclear. A stopgap bill must be signed into law by Sept. 30 in order to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins. None of the dozen regular appropriations bills for fiscal 2021 will be completed in time and thus, Congress must pass a Continuing Resolution (CR). 

The initial plan did not include a White House request for farm aid or additional school lunch assistance, a Democratic priority. The administration has said that without replenishment in the CR, the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds for farm payments could hit its $30 billion borrowing cap and be unable to make payments under 2018 farm bill programs. The House was expected to vote on the measure early on Tuesday, however, House leaders abruptly delayed plans for a floor vote, as negotiators worked to reach agreement on agriculture and nutrition provisions.  

Late Tuesday evening, the final agreement—which included the additional CCC funds and school lunch assistance—was put forward for a floor vote and the bill passed with bipartisan support.

Democratic leadership and the Trump administration had previously announced a tentative agreement to temporarily extend government funding without adding unrelated or potentially toxic provisions. The push to avoid a shutdown comes amid a protracted fight over how to structure another pandemic relief package.

Many Democrats were pushing for a bill that would last until February, however the CR that passed will only extend through mid-December. Key Democrats pushed for the CR to last into next year, fearing that President Trump might refuse to sign a lame duck stopgap bill that deprives him of another round of full-year spending bills — forcing a shutdown just before lawmakers are scheduled to wrap up the 116th Congress and leave Washington for their winter break.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Democrats intend to wrap up talks on the dozen full-year spending bills this year, despite the significant differences between House Democrats’ bills and the Trump administration’s budget request.

The CR will mostly keep spending flat compared to the current fiscal year, though it includes several minor changes to funding levels and policies, known as anomalies. The package also includes numerous reauthorizations for programs that would otherwise lapse at the end of September, such as extending for one year both the National Flood Insurance Program and surface transportation spending. The CR also extends funding for community health centers, the National Health Service Corps and other health programs through Dec. 11. It protects Medicare beneficiaries from an expected increase in Part B premiums in 2021. According to a senior Democratic aide, the change would limit premium increases for Part B — which funds doctor visits, ambulance services, durable medical equipment and more — to about $4 a month rather than up to $50. The fix would prevent seniors from having to use up much of their Social Security checks next year, which are likely to see very small increases due to low inflation, for Medicare premiums.

Both sides aim to avoid letting funding lapse ahead of the November election. The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Republicans’ move to try to quickly confirm her successor, has added even more tension in Congress in the weeks before the election.