Congress Passes Two-day Stopgap Bill to Avoid Shutdown and Keep Relief Bill Talks Going

December 18, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The House and Senate on Friday evening passed a two-day, stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown and provide negotiators additional time to resolve differences over a longer-term appropriations bill and COVID-19 relief package.

The House passed the continuing resolution by a vote of 320-60. The Senate approved it by voice vote and President Trump signed it late Friday.

Outgoing House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced the continuing resolution early Friday evening to keep the federal government running through Sunday in the hope that will be enough time for lawmakers to hammer out a final coronavirus relief bill.

The government is set to run out of money at midnight. A partial, low-impact shutdown would ensue if Congress failed to pass a stopgap spending bill before then.

“The American people urgently need coronavirus relief and this short stopgap bill will allow bipartisan, bicameral negotiators to complete their work on this important issue,” Lowey said.

“I look forward to swiftly passing omnibus appropriations and coronavirus relief legislation through the House as soon as possible,” she added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said early in the day he was “even more optimistic now than I was last night” that an agreement would be reached Friday on an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package, but the mood to compromise curdled after conservative Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tried to insert a provision that would close down more than $400 billion in potential Federal Reserve lending powers established under a relief bill in March.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is shutting down the programs at the end of December, but Toomey’s language goes further, by barring the Fed from restarting the lending next year, and Democrats say the provision would tie Biden’s hands and put the economy at risk.

Democrats contend the Toomey proposal would deprive President-elect Joe Biden of crucial tools to manage the economy.

The text of the legislation, H. J. Res. 107, is available here. Passage of the stopgap measure will force Congress into a rare weekend session as congressional leaders race to reach a deal before the holidays.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., told reporters that negotiators are closing in on an agreement. 

“I think we’re very close to getting an agreement. I think two more days, it allows the time to get it done and allow time for people to read,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the bicameral and bipartisan group of lawmakers who jump-started the relief package talks with their proposed $900 billion framework for negotiations, issued a joint statement Friday urging their colleagues to get the relief bill to across the finish line.

“Today we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 310,000 Americans, and hours away from a government shutdown that threatens to delay urgent aid to people in need throughout the nation,” they said. “We must set our differences aside. The American people elected us to govern on their behalf, and at a time when they need us more than ever we must end the partisan games and meet this moment together for the good of the country. On Monday, our bipartisan, bicameral group presented a bill that helps provide for the emergency needs of the millions of families struggling to make ends meet. Once again, we encourage the leaders to finish what we started and deliver immediate assistance to the workers, families and businesses that need it most.”

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