As virus talks drag, Congress prepares temporary funding fix

Washington-DC
Capitol Christmas Tree, Nancy Pelosi

The 2020 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is lit after a ceremony on the West Front of Capitol Hill in Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. This year’s tree is a 55-foot tall Engelmann spruce from Western Colorado and is decorated with handmade ornaments made by the people of Colorado. The Capitol Christmas Tree has been a tradition since 1964. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are giving themselves more time to sort through their end-of-session business on government spending and COVID-19 relief, preparing a one-week stopgap spending bill that would prevent a shutdown this weekend.

House floor leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on Twitter that the temporary government funding bill is slated for a vote on Wednesday, when it is sure to easily pass. The development comes as Capitol Hill is struggling to figure out how to deliver long-delayed pandemic relief, including additional help for businesses hard hit by the pandemic, further unemployment benefits, funding to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and funding demanded by Democrats for state and local governments.

Hoyer had previously told lawmakers that this week would probably be the last of the session, but talks are going more slowly than hoped on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill under assembly by senior members of the powerful Appropriations committees. The stopgap measure would prevent a government shutdown through Dec. 18.

“I am disappointed that we have not yet reached agreement on government funding. The House will vote on Wednesday on a one-week (stopgap bill) to keep government open while negotiations continue,” Hoyer said.

Three main items of legislation are at issue in the end-of-session agenda: a defense policy bill that President Donald Trump is threatening to veto; the $1.4 trillion governmentwide spending bill; and perhaps $900 billion in long-sought COVID-19 relief.

There are two sets of talks on COVID-19 relief — on the leadership level and by a group of Senate moderates — occurring at the same time, and it’s unclear how the negotiators might sort themselves out, lending an air of confusion to the process.

If an agreement isn’t possible on the omnibus bill, lawmakers might have no option but to pass another continuing resolution that would keep the government running on autopilot and permit them to punt the unfinished spending bills into next year

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Monday that Trump is comfortable with a deal along the lines of one being put together by a group of Senate moderates and pragmatists. That $900 billion plan does not include direct payments sought by Trump before the election.

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