Capitol Correspondence - 12.15.20

Congress Approaching a Deal on Longer-Term Government Funding

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Following the passage of a bill extending federal funding at current levels for one week to avoid a government shutdown, Congress is cautiously optimistic about passing an omnibus bill that would fund key agencies for fiscal year 2021. Should that package pass, it would free up congressional bandwidth for big-issue legislation when the new Congress starts in 2021.

As reported by Politico Pro: “Congressional negotiators are closing in on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending deal to ward off a government shutdown on Friday at midnight, crossing one major priority off the legislative agenda and adding further urgency around the inclusion of coronavirus aid in a year-end package. […]

The massive omnibus deal is expected to be the final major piece of legislation pushed through the lame duck Congress — making it a likely vehicle for Covid-related fiscal stimulus if top Republicans and Democrats can reach a long-delayed accord this week. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they want to combine coronavirus relief with the annual budget measure.

Congressional leaders and appropriators have labored over the last week to reach a compromise on major omnibus sticking points, including cash for President Donald Trump’s border wall and how to classify $12.5 billion in veterans’ health spending amid opposition from Republicans, who’ve been averse to deeming that money as ‘emergency’ spending outside of strict budget caps. […]

A senior GOP said Republicans are reviewing the proposal, which exceeds 400 pages.

Additional policy items could be stuffed into the spending deal as well, with lawmakers of both parties eager to get more legislation approved in the waning days of a gridlocked Congress. A stimulus deal — if it can be reached — would be the biggest addition, by far, to any spending package. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a $908 billion economic rescue bill, the details of which will be unveiled later Monday. Senate Republicans had previously signaled little interest in the proposal. [See this article for a preliminary outline of the $908 billion proposal.]

In a desperate bid to reach agreement, that group of lawmakers decided over the weekend to split their proposal into two pieces — carving out the most contentious items, money for local governments and liability protections for businesses, into a separate bill. The other bill, with a $748 billion price tag, would include broadly bipartisan funding for schools and health care.

A compromise would come after the House and Senate passed a one-week continuing resolution to move the government funding deadline from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18, giving lawmakers extra time to hash out the specifics of pandemic aid and legislation to increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.

Congress has funded federal agencies through a continuing resolution since September, with the annual appropriations process falling victim to election year politics, as it usually does.”