Congress Approves Stopgap Bill to Avert Shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., attends a press conference in Washington on May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) — There is still no comprehensive budget to fund the government into 2021, as the House and Senate on Friday passed their third emergency resolution to jam open federal coffers until the end of the weekend. 

Known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution, the joint legislation passed in both chambers will continue government funding at current levels for the next two days while lawmakers hammer out agreements on fully-funding federal agencies. The bill also is a lifeboat for lawmakers who have failed for months to come to a consensus on additional Covid-19 relief law. 

The stopgap measure is the third drafted by lawmakers this year, passing a resolution last week to kick the group’s deadline to Friday. At that point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the issue would be resolved the following week. 

Before that, Congress passed another continuing resolution in September, to avert shuttering government agencies in December. 

House Democrats passed more than $1 trillion in funding for multiple government agencies in June, including bankrolling the Justice and Defense departments and other agencies. The House also set aside $7.5 billion to fund the 2020 census. 

Many lawmakers expressed their frustration with the legislative processes Friday and leadership’s inability to draft additional relief legislation, including Missouri Senator Josh Hawley.

Joining Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, to call for $1,200 direct impact payments to struggling families, Hawley said from the Senate floor the money should be the first issue lawmakers should focus on when deciding funding priorities. 

“Lets send a message to working families that they’re first, not last,” Hawley said. “That they’re the most important consideration, not some afterthought.” 

But Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, objected to immediately approving direct payments to families, saying he supported a more targeted approach to direct relief for families.

“So what I fear what we’re going to do with this bipartisan package and what the senator from Missouri is talking about is the same thing: a shotgun approach,” Johnson said. 

Following the debate, Hawley told Capitol Hill reporters he was considering voting against any measure that would keep the government open through the weekend.

While originally slated to pass by voice vote in the House — Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, was the only member to ask for the yays and nays Friday — members voted by a 320-60 margin to send the measure over to the Senate. 

Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Committee Appropriations Committee, said Friday that families and small businesses desperately needed the support of relief negotiation being dissected by lawmakers in leadership.

Emergency relief would be delivered alongside an eventual omnibus package to fund the federal government, she said. 

“To keep government open while negotiations conclude the legislation before us extends funding at current levels through Sunday,” Lowry said. “I urge my colleagues, join me, in supporting the ongoing talks by supporting this clean, ongoing resolution.” 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said an eventual bill for Covid-19 relief funding and a possible omnibus bill to fund the government, would not take place until Sunday. 

The Senate passed the resolution by near unanimous consent. McConnell brought the bill to the floor briefly before 7 p.m. Friday, saying an overarching agreement on both issues had not yet been reached. 

“As of right now we have not yet reached a final agreement, regretfully,” McConnell said. “I believe all sides feel we are making good progress on a major relief bill that would travel with a full year appropriations measure.” 

Senator Sanders posed a possible objection that could have brought stopgap negotiations to a halt after McConnell acquiesced. 

“We don’t agree on much but we are in agreement on at least one point, and that is that the Senate cannot go home until a covid emergency relief bill is passed. The fact that the Majority Leader intends to keep the Senate in session to continue work on the covid relief package is the correct decision,” Sanders said. 

The senator, once President-elect Joe Biden’s opponent in the race to the White House, was firm, saying: “I will object to any attempt by the Senate to pass an omnibus appropriations bill and leave town before passing a covid relief bill with substantial direct payments going to working people.”

“The truth is that working families of this country today are probably in the worst economic condition than anytime since the Great Depression,” Sanders said. 

There are more than 10 million unemployed in the United States as of this month and without relief secured soon, many will face the grim prospect of eviction. 

“Millions of people are unable to pay their rent and are worried about being evicted. Hunger is literally at its highest level than it has been in several decades and in the midst of this terrible, terrible pandemic, we have millions of people who cannot afford to go to a doctor. That is unacceptable. Let’s make certain we have direct payments to working families of this country,” he said.

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