Lame-Duck Session Under Way

December 2, 2020

Congress returned to Washington this week following the Thanksgiving recess, and lawmakers are racing to complete a series of unfinished business in a very short amount of time. The legislative items on the agenda during the Lame Duck include, a massive government spending bill, and an annual defense authorization bill. Pressure is also growing for Congress to provide some much-needed COVID-19 relief to the American people before a host of critical aid programs are set to expire at the end of the year. While a massive stimulus package is unlikely to come together at this point, some provisions could be attached onto the funding bill or be passed as standalone measures.

Given Congress is likely to leave town for the year by the end of next week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a broad coronavirus aid framework on Tuesday, a significant breakthrough after months of failed negotiation. The proposal offers a middle ground between the $2.4 trillion measure sought by House Democrats and the $519 billion pushed by Senate Republicans. The package is designed to provide enough relief through the end of March.

The new bipartisan measure, billed as a “framework” which has yet to be drafted into legislation, includes many pieces of relief programs that lawmakers have tried for months to pass in various forms. The biggest single piece is $288 billion in relief for small businesses, including a new round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, along with Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and aid to restaurants.

It also calls for $160 billion in state and local government relief and $180 billion to fund a $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefit through March. According to a draft framework, it would put $16 billion into vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, funnel $82 billion into education, put $45 billion into transportation and allocate funds for rental assistance, child care and broadband.

It was introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), as well as House members. Separately, some other senators have held bipartisan discussions about a solution. Despite the bipartisan nature of the framework, there is no guarantee an aid package will come together before the end of the year. Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will make the final determination on more coronavirus relief.

The only absolute must-pass business is preventing a government shutdown when a temporary spending bill expires on Dec. 11. The route preferred by Speaker Pelosi and Leader McConnell is to agree upon and pass an omnibus spending bill for the government. However, at a minimum, lawmakers need to keep the government running by passing a stopgap spending bill known as a continuing resolution, which would punt $1.4 trillion worth of unfinished agency spending into next year.

Getting President Trump to sign the measure may be another challenge. Two years ago he sparked a lengthy partial government shutdown over the border wall, but both sides would like to clear away the pile of unfinished legislation to give the Biden administration a fresh start. The changeover in administrations probably would not affect an omnibus deal very much. Whatever approach passes, it is likely to contain a batch of unfinished leftovers such as extending expiring health care policies and continuing the authorization for the government’s flood insurance program.

Finally, lawmakers are closing in on a deal for a compromise defense authorization bill and are hoping to sign off on the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday and Thursday. Negotiators have not yet ironed out an agreement over provisions that would strip the names of Confederate leaders from Army bases and other military assets, which remains the last major hurdle, though House Democrats have been pushing for the Senate’s language to rename bases over a three-year period. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA over the issue, which has been a thorny one for negotiators throughout the talks.

For NSBA, our biggest concern with the NDAA, is a provision with the so-called “beneficial ownership” which was included in the House-passed version of the NDAA. The inclusion of this amendment is devastating news to the millions of small-business owners who will be faced with an additional $5.7 billion in regulatory paperwork. Throughout the process, NSBA has urged lawmakers to oppose the Corporate Transparency Act amendment, highlighting that it will impose burdensome, duplicative reporting burdens on the smallest businesses in the U.S. and it threatens the privacy of law-abiding, legitimate small-business owners. NSBA remains opposed to the legislation and opposes inclusion of the amendment in the unrelated NDAA. Along with our coalition partners, we will be lobbying conferees to exclude the controversial provision from the NDAA.