Democrats Roll Out Funding Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill Friday in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (CN) — As the U.S. coronavirus death toll nears 200,000, House Democrats hoping to sidestep a government shutdown rolled out a temporary funding bill on Monday to keep federal offices afloat through December. 

Republicans opposed the move, known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution, aimed at preventing the government from shutting down in nine days. The GOP slammed Democrats for the absence of coronavirus relief for farmers in the emergency spending bill. 

The legislation comes after negotiations on Covid-19 relief screeched to a halt last week.

The Democrats’ bill would keep every federal agency — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others providing critical services during the pandemic — fully funded until Dec. 11, past the presidential election. 

The current budget is set to expire on Sept. 30, meaning the House will likely vote on the legislation later this week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill will help Washington avoid a “catastrophic shutdown” in the middle of the pandemic.

She also called out the Senate for failing to begin working on its spending bills, while the House has already passed the majority of its appropriations, stressing the need for Congress to finalize next year’s budget including Covid-19 relief by December. 

“We must continue to work to reach agreement on a coronavirus relief package that meets the health and economic needs of the American people,” the speaker said in a statement.

Talks stalled last week on pandemic relief after Democrats blocked a provision that would have allowed President Donald Trump and the GOP to continue passing tens of billions in bailouts to farmers. The House majority also removed billions in food assistance for families hard hit by the pandemic, a provision they had supported. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the issue of relief for farmers again Monday, knocking the Democrats’ stopgap spending bill. 

“House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” McConnell said on Twitter

With federal funding set to soon dry up, Democrats are strategizing that Republicans will have no option but to pass the continuing resolution. 

The spending measure on the table Monday also includes a provision to prevent seniors from having to pay a $50 a month Medicare Part B premium hike and another to help FEMA respond to the wildfires ravaging the West Coast and a surging hurricane season coming off the Atlantic.

The partisan discord over how best to keep the government up and running while also responding to the pandemic unfolded Monday as the death toll from Covid-19 climbed past 199,600 by the afternoon, according to John Hopkins University. 

The Government Accountability Office also released a report Monday indicating millions of Americans may have not received their pandemic relief checks in the mail earlier this year. 

The government watchdog office said that 8.7 million or more individuals who may be eligible for payments of up to $1,200 are still waiting on the relief due to incomplete records at the IRS and Treasury Department.

While both did act on several recommendations in a GAO June report, including extending the deadline through Sept. 30 for people who did not file income tax returns to apply for payments, the IRS and Treasury have failed to update counts of individuals who have yet to receive Covid-19 checks. 

“However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment,” the report states. 

The GAO said the agency was working to notify around 9 million individuals that they may be eligible for payments. 

The IRS relied in recent months on direct deposit, as well as paper checks and debit cards, to doll out the payments from funding appropriated by Congress to the tune of $282 billion. 

The GAO report also called for clear reopening guidance for schools from the CDC, a recommendation the Department of Health and Human Service, which oversees the CDC, agreed with. 

“GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent,” the report states.

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