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Budgeting barriers

Partisan disagreements stymie a new pandemic stimulus package and other budgetary matters


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta

Budgeting barriers

WASHINGTON—With the government set to run out of funding on Friday at midnight, the Senate still needs to pass a temporary stopgap measure to avert a federal shutdown. The House of Representatives voted Thursday on a continuing resolution to keep the government open for one more week as they try to find a compromise on a larger spending bill.

Congress first passed a continuing resolution in September for the 2021 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, punting funding issues until after the November election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., want to attach another round of COVID-19 relief legislation to the funding package. But competing proposals and sticking points keep gumming up the process.

Last week, a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers restarted talks around a package for the first time in weeks. They released details on Wednesday on the $908 billion bill that would extend additional unemployment insurance payments by 16 weeks, replenish funds for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, give state and local aid, and deal with vaccine distribution among other priorities. It would also provide money to states for rental assistance and extend a moratorium on evictions until the end of January.

Republicans want liability shields for businesses struggling in the midst of the coronavirus, while Democrats have called for more money to assist state and local governments—measures neither side can get the other to support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday suggested that negotiators simply drop both items, calling them roadblocks to a deal, but Democrats rejected the idea.

The parties have also disagreed over whether to include another round of direct stimulus payments to households. That priority has some surprising allies backing it: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has endorsed the measure, and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., warned that he would vote no on any package that did not include direct payments. On Tuesday, the White House proposed a $916 billion bill that included stimulus checks of $600 per individual, but Democrats rejected it.

There’s also disagreement about who should be involved in the negotiations. A bipartisan group of lawmakers was originally tasked with coming up with the legislative text, and Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., want to support their efforts. But some rank-and-file Republicans say the party leaders in the House and Senate—McConnell, Schumer, Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.—should take over.

Meanwhile, another end-of-the-year priority is under the threat of a presidential veto. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto an annual military bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which provides military funding, for not including a repeal of Section 230, which offers legal protection from content liability to technology companies. While there is bipartisan support for overhauling tech policy on the Hill, lawmakers have said the NDAA is unrelated and the priorities should be dealt with separately.

The House passed the NDAA by a veto-proof margin of 335-78 on Tuesday, but the White House will likely up its pressure campaign on Republicans. McCarthy said on Tuesday that though he voted to support the bill, he would not oppose Trump’s veto: “My point has always been, when I became a leader, I would not vote against the president’s veto.”

The bill awaits a vote in the Senate, where McConnell told reporters Tuesday he plans to support it. On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would filibuster the legislation because it limits the president’s power to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. That means the Senate can vote on it Friday at the earliest, Politico reported.

The bill has passed for the past 59 years and will expire Jan. 3 without action.

Lastly, lawmakers also have to wrest together the overall $1.4 trillion government funding package. With the continuing stalemates, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers can once again come together on a last-minute omnibus spending bill or whether fully funding the government will become a first priority for the next White House administration.


Harvest Prude

Harvest is a former political reporter for WORLD’s Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate.

@HarvestPrude

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