Top GOP senator: Relief deal unlikely before government funding set to expire

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) says it’s looking increasingly unlikely that negotiators will reach a coronavirus relief deal by 12 a.m. Saturday, when government funding is due to expire.

Thune also warned that getting unanimous consent to keep the government open with a short-term funding bill may prove to be a “heavy lift.”

“That would be a triumph of hope over experience to think that we might get a deal yet today,” he told reporters Friday afternoon. “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.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) earlier in the day threatened to withhold consent for a stopgap funding measure unless leaders provided more detail on the state of negotiations over coronavirus relief. He did so after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked his request to unanimously approve $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans earning up to $75,000.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the two main negotiators, spoke by phone around 1 p.m. and their deputies said they would have a better idea of where the talks stand around 5 p.m.

Leaders had hoped to reach a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package by close of business Friday and attach it to a $1.4 trillion year-end omnibus spending package.

Their plan was to have a deal announced by Friday and to draft it and set it up for final votes on Saturday or Sunday. Now it looks like those votes may be postponed until next week.

“It’s coming together, it’s just taking time,” Thune said, describing the negotiations as “arduous work.”

One of the biggest obstacles is language being pushed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to wind down the Federal Reserve’s credit lending facilities.

“We have a lot of our members who believe that was for a temporary time [and] need to be ended. The Dems see it differently,” Thune said.

Republicans worry that if the Federal Reserve’s lending authorities continue into next year, the Biden administration could use it to fund cash-strapped state and local governments — something GOP senators oppose.

Thune said it would be “a likely conclusion” the government shuts down briefly if a senator objects to waiving procedural hurdles on the Senate floor Friday to pass a stopgap funding measure.

“There are members on both sides who are resistant to the idea of doing another [continuing resolution]. But if there’s good progress on the deal and it looks likely they’ll be able to announce something soon, hopefully the Christmas spirit will kick in,” he said. 

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Federal Reserve John Thune Josh Hawley Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pat Toomey Ron Johnson Shutdown

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