This week: Congress poised to buy more time on spending, coronavirus talks

Greg Nash

Congress is poised to punt a deadline for government funding talks as negotiators try to lock down a yearlong deal and a long-stalled coronavirus bill. 

Lawmakers face a Dec. 11 deadline to fund the government and prevent a holiday government shutdown, with the date also viewed as an unofficial cliff for coronavirus relief negotiations. 

But with talks unfinished, and time running short, aides say Congress is likely to pass a one-week continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through Dec. 18 in an attempt to buy themselves more time to finish the larger negotiations.

The stopgap bill could be introduced as soon as Monday. 

The Senate was already scheduled to stay in Washington until Dec. 18. But the House had initially been scheduled to leave Washington on Dec. 11, to provide lawmakers ample time to quarantine ahead of the holidays. 

“We have a lot of work to do and just a few days to do it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told ABC News’s “This Week” about the week ahead. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both say they want a deal on full-year funding bills that coronavirus relief could ride on. The two spoke on Thursday, with the GOP leader telling reporters, “I think we’re both interested in getting an outcome, both on the omnibus and on a coronavirus package.”

Negotiators reached a deal on top-line figures for the 12 government funding bills late last month, and appropriators have kicked unresolved issues up to the leadership level. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel’s ranking member, have said the bulk of the agreement is worked out. 

But leadership still needs to untangle a laundry list of sticking points including the border wall, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beds, Veterans Affairs health care and environmental riders. 

“I was hopeful we’d accomplish those objectives by next Thursday. Unfortunately, things are not moving as rapidly as I think they ought to,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said from the floor on Friday. “Members need to be advised that they need to keep their schedules very, very flexible.” 

Mixed in with the government funding talks are efforts to break a monthlong stalemate on more coronavirus relief as cases spike across the country and some cities and states reinstate lockdown measures heading into the holidays. 

Pelosi added that she hoped the momentum on a potential coronavirus relief deal “will accelerate the discussions on the omnibus.” 

Helping feed momentum for leadership to cut a deal, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced a framework last week for a $908 billion bill. They are hoping to release text of the agreement on Monday, though as of late last week they hadn’t yet worked out language on liability protections or state and local aid. 

In a hurdle for the bipartisan group, Democrats have been wary of McConnell’s push for liability protections while a swath of GOP senators view more money for states and cities as a non-starter. 

“Our final language … will probably come out early this week, earlier this week, and so then people can look at it and we can modify it as needed,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told “Fox News Sunday,” adding that he was “optimistic” that leadership would come on board. 

Defense bill 

Congressional leaders are moving forward with a mammoth defense policy bill despite a looming veto threat from President Trump. 

The House is poised to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday, and the bill was on a list of legislative items on the Senate’s agenda for the week from McConnell’s office. 

Trump has warned that he will veto the bill because it does not include a repeal of Section 230, a key liability protection for online tech platforms. 

But top Republicans have publicly urged him to back down, arguing that while they share his frustration the defense bill, which has passed for 59 years in a row, isn’t the place to litigate the battle. 

“230 has nothing to do with the military,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “I agree with his sentiments … but you can’t do it in this bill. That’s not a part of the bill.” 

If Trump vetoes the bill, lawmakers are expected to try to override. Hoyer told Bloomberg late last week that the House has the votes to override. The GOP-controlled Senate is less certain. Top Republicans have previously predicted they would override, and the Senate’s NDAA initially passed with 86 votes. Trump has issued eight vetoes since 2017, with none successfully overridden.  

In addition to the tech fight, the bill breaks with or reins in Trump on several fronts, underscoring the deep divisions on national security between the president and GOP allies that have been a throughline over the past four years.

The bill includes language requiring the changing of the names of Confederate-named bases and military installations within three years, limits Trump’s ability to pull troops out of Germany and Afghanistan and places restrictions on transferring military-grade weapons to police.

Arms sale

The Senate could vote as soon as this week to try to block Trump’s arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. 

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced four resolutions last month to block the $23 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets, armed drones, missiles and bombs. 

Menendez predicted that the resolutions will come up for a vote this week. Supporters will need a simple majority to initially get them through the Senate. Arms sales have become a point of contention between Capitol Hill and the administration, though neither the House nor Senate is expected to have the two-thirds necessary to ultimately override a likely veto. 

If every Democrat supports the resolution, they would need two Republican senators in addition to Paul to pass the resolutions of disapproval through the Senate. Because the measures are privileged they can come up for a vote despite opposition from GOP leadership.

Iran resolution 

The House is slated to vote on a resolution rebuking the Iranian government for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and human rights violations. 

The measure — led by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) —  notes that “since 1979, Iranian authorities have killed or executed more than 200 Baha’i leaders, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs.”

The resolution calls for the immediate release of imprisoned or detained Baha’is solely being held on account of their religious beliefs, ceasing the use of state-sponsored propaganda against Baha’is and to unwind policies preventing access to equal educational opportunities. 

The measure also calls on the president and secretary of State to “impose sanctions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses.” 


McConnell has teed up additional nominations for the Senate floor this week. 

The Senate will take a procedural vote on Monday evening on Stephen Schwartz’s nomination to be a judge on the court of federal claims. 

McConnell has also teed up Nathan Simington’s Federal Communications Commission nomination. 

Simington’s nomination was advanced out of the Senate Commerce Committee in a 14-12 party-line vote. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the full Senate, though both parties have had absences in recent weeks. 

Simington’s presence on the commission would leave it at a 2-2 partisan deadlock when current chairman Ajit Pai steps down on Jan. 20.

Tags Ajit Pai Bill Cassidy Bob Menendez Chris Murphy Confederate base names coronavirus relief aid coronavirus relief negotiations Dick Durbin Donald Trump government funding negotiations Government shutdown Jim Inhofe Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi NDAA veto threat Omnibus spending bill Patrick Leahy Rand Paul Richard Shelby Robert Menendez Section 230 Steny Hoyer Ted Deutch

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