Government faces shutdown as year-end deal remains elusive
The federal government is hours away from a shutdown as a year-end deal on coronavirus relief remains elusive and at least one senator is threatening to withhold consent for a short-term funding measure to keep departments and agencies open.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke on the phone Friday afternoon but neither side reported any significant progress.
Negotiators said they hoped to have a clearer picture of the path ahead at 5 p.m.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Friday said he’s not going to allow a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to pass Friday unless leaders give him a more detailed briefing about the $900 billion relief package that is close to being finalized.
“We actually have no idea what’s actually in this package. You know more than we do, so I’m not gonna allow a CR to go through until I know more what’s actually in the package,” Hawley told reporters after fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) rejected his request to pass by unanimous consent a bill providing another round of $1,200 direct checks to the public.
At the same time, Democrats are warning that a late push by Republicans to add language to the deal to shut down the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s credit lending facilities is putting a deal at risk.
“An agreement was in sight to deliver aid to the American people until Sen. Toomey and Republicans inserted an eleventh hour purely political, unrelated provision to tie [President-elect Joe] Biden’s hands and risk throwing the economy into a tailspin,” a senior Democratic aide said of language being pushed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Toomey’s proposal would rescind unused funding appropriated in the CARES Act to secure Fed lending programs and close those programs by the end of the year, as Republican lawmakers intended when they drafted the legislation in March.
“The Toomey provision would be an unprecedented change to the law to strip the Fed chair of one of their most important tools to quickly respond to any future economic crisis,” the Democratic aide said.
Senate leaders would need unanimous consent from all 100 members of the upper chamber to pass a short-term funding measure by the midnight deadline.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) warned Friday that it’s looking less and less likely that negotiators will reach a deal on coronavirus relief by the end of the day.
“It’s coming together, it’s just taking time,” he said, describing it as “arduous work.”
“That would be a triumph of hope over experience to think that we might get a deal yet today,” Thune said. “Best-case scenario of getting something voted on was probably going to be Sunday but it may be later than that.”
He also said that it could be difficult to get consent to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open until next week.
“That in and of itself could prove to be a pretty heavy lift,” he said, adding a shutdown “would be a likely conclusion” if there’s not unanimous consent on keeping the government open.
Negotiators are haggling over the size of the stimulus checks, who should be eligible to receive them, whether to add a $90 billion pot of money for state and local emergencies to be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as Toomey’s proposal to wind down Treasury-Fed lending programs.
Congressional leaders are discussing three different stopgap measures of various lengths, according to Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), an adviser to Senate GOP leadership.
“There are some people who are saying that, ‘Well, we don’t need a [stopgap] because we need to keep the sense of urgency on,’ but I think it would be a mistake for us to go through even a temporary government shutdown,” he said. “It would not be a responsible thing to do.”
Cornyn said Federal Reserve lending authority remains an outstanding issue as well as money provided to states and localities through FEMA.
He said Federal Reserve lending facilities “could potentially be used as a backdoor to do state and local aid — which I think is the idea — without Congress’s approval.”
“This is just the normal pain associated with getting to a solution,” he added. “This is one of the situations where everyone wants to get to a conclusion. They also want the very best deal they can. It’s narrowing, and I think we’ll get there.”
Negotiators are also haggling over a provision in the relief package known as the Save Our Stages Act to provide financial assistance to shuttered live entertainment venues. Some lawmakers want to add relief to other businesses such as museums and zoos.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Friday said House Democratic leaders plan to advance a short-term government funding measure later in the day.
“We’re going to keep the government open,” he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also expressed support Friday for a short-term funding measure.
“I’m not for a shutdown in any shape or form,” he said.
The last time the government shutdown was shortly before Christmas 2018 when Democrats and President Trump failed to agree on spending legislation because of a fight over funding construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The impasse caused a 35-day partial shutdown of government.
Updated at 3:19 p.m.