Sides tiptoe toward a COVID-19 deal, but breakthrough appears distant
Shutdown clash looms after Democrats unveil spending bill
Legislation introduced Monday by House Democrats to keep the federal government funded through Dec. 11 quickly ran into opposition from Senate Republicans, raising the odds of a shutdown at the end of the month, just weeks before the election.
Government funding is slated to run out on Sept. 30, leaving just nine days for both parties to avoid a damaging shutdown at a time when tensions are already spiking over Senate GOP plans to quickly fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and stalled negotiations over a coronavirus relief bill.
Democrats on Monday unveiled a stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that does not contain a provision requested by the White House to provide aid for farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic lawmakers had originally planned to introduce their bill last week, but negotiations stalled in large part over the Trump administration's push to ensure farm aid payments continue flowing through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which has a borrowing limit of $30 billion.
House Democrats are aiming to pass the spending bill this week to provide enough time for the Senate to take it up before the end-of-the-month deadline.
It's not yet clear if Senate Republicans will try to amend the bill and send it back to the House in a game of legislative ping-pong with such a tight time frame.
But Senate Republicans quickly lined up to bash Democrats' bill, increasing the odds of a partisan showdown mere weeks before Election Day. Both sides previously expected a relatively simple extension of funding.
"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," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted.
A senior administration official said it's unlikely the president signs the funding bill should it pass both chambers without the CCC provision.
"[The odds are] very low. CCC is a big deal and they have nothing," the official told The Hill.
But White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested earlier in the day that "most of all we want a clean CR to keep the government open."
President Trump announced during a rally in Wisconsin last week that his administration would make an additional $13 billion available to help farmers recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The administration has previously made billions in aid available to farmers - a key constituency for his reelection hopes - hit by the president's trade wars with China.
But Democrats are steadfastly opposed to adding the funding requested by the White House to the stopgap bill, arguing the $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by the House in May includes funds for farmers.
"What the Trump Administration wanted added to the clean CR wasn't help for farmers - it was more than $20 billion more taxpayer dollars that the Trump Administration views as a bottomless, unaccountable political slush fund," a senior Democratic aide said.
"Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can't let that happen!" Trump tweeted on Friday.
Lawmakers are already on edge due to the fight over McConnell's pledge to vote on filling the vacancy left by Ginsburg, who died on Friday, despite refusing to consider then-President Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the idea of using the government funding negotiations as leverage in the Supreme Court fight.
"None of us has any interest in shutting down government. That has such a harmful and painful impact on so many people in our country. So I would hope that we can just proceed with that. There is some enthusiasm among, some exuberance on the left to say let's use that, but we're not going to be shutting down government," Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed earlier this month to pursue a "clean" stopgap bill to avoid a damaging government shutdown a month before the November elections and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the two parties remain at odds over the farm relief, they did manage to reach consensus on the expiration date for the stopgap bill. Republicans had pushed for a December end date to carry funding through the elections, while some Democrats had pushed for a stopgap bill lasting into February that could be more advantageous if their party wins the Senate or the White House.
Pelosi and Mnuchin also agreed to keep the government funding and coronavirus relief package negotiations on separate tracks. The talks over providing additional aid for Americans impacted by the pandemic have stalled for nearly two months, with the two sides still billions of dollars apart in their demands and neither showing any signs of budging.
"We must continue to work to reach agreement on a coronavirus relief package that meets the health and economic needs of the American people," Pelosi said in a statement on Monday.
Juliegrace Brufke contributed. Updated at 3:45 p.m.