One Week Short-Term CRDecember 9, 2020
Lawmakers face a deadline at the end of the week to pass a new government funding package and avoid a shutdown. In recent days, both Democratic and Republican leadership have said Congress will extend government funding and pass a one-week continuing resolution (CR) while they try and put together spending and COVID relief packages. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have indicated that coronavirus relief should be attached to the omnibus spending measure for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
On Dec. 8, House Democrats unveiled the text of their stopgap spending bill—H.R. 8900—which moves the government funding deadline from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18, in addition to providing a one-week extension for certain health programs. Those include funding for community health centers, teaching health centers and the National Health Service Corps. The bill also includes a one-week delay of an estimated $4 billion in scheduled pay cuts to hospitals serving many low-income patients.
The House plans to pass the measure on Wednesday, under suspension of the rules, meaning two-thirds of the House will be required to clear it. The Senate vote will likely occur on Friday sending the CR to President Donald Trump’s desk just before the current spending bill expires at midnight on Friday.
This brief reprieve will give congressional and White House negotiators more time to reach a spending deal to cover the rest of the fiscal year and time to work out details of a pandemic relief bill. Congressional leaders are under pressure from rank-and-file members and much of the public to fund the government and provide economic relief before the holidays.
The push to buy time came as a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers struggled to pin down the details of a $908 billion coronavirus aid package that could become the basis for a compromise deal. The package is designed to last for about four months, by which time President-elect Joe Biden is expected to propose a more sweeping pandemic response.
The COVID-19 relief bill that lawmakers are working on would be the first one passed since the spring. The broad outline of the bipartisan plan called for $288 billion for small businesses, $180 billion in unemployment benefits, and $160 billion in aid to state and local governments, among other things. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aid would be limited to small businesses that have seen revenue drop 25 percent this year. It would have more flexibility than the first round but would still largely go toward covering payroll.
The two main sticking points in the negotiations have been liability protection and aid to state and local governments. Senate Republicans and the White House have insisted for months that any new aid bill include a liability shield if employers follow basic federal health safety guidelines. Democrats have resisted the effort, saying workers are putting their lives on the line in some cases and deserve the option of a court remedy if they get sick. The bipartisan framework called for a “short-term” liability shield “with the purpose of giving states time to develop their own response,” according to a summary of the plan’s major provisions.
That new deadline gives the bipartisan group more time to iron out its aid proposal, but the legislative text will reveal whether it can pass both chambers or require further negotiation. It remains unclear if an extra week will provide enough time to resolve a litany of outstanding issues and avoid a longer term stopgap spending bill through early next year, possibly through March. But appropriators have remained optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays.