President Donald Trump signed a two-day stopgap funding bill late Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown as negotiations continue over a $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill and $1.4 trillion spending package over the next year.
The House passed the bill (pdf), known as a continuing resolution, by a vote of 320-60. The Senate also later voted in favor of the measure. President Donald Trump later signed the bill into law to enable funding to continue through midnight on Sunday.
Without the bill, funding would have expired by midnight and resulted in a partial but low-impact shutdown of the government. All federal workers considered essential would still be working.
The bill could have been stopped by a single senator voicing an objection, but the most likely Republican to do so, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), earlier announced he would not block the bill after being reassured that direct payments for individuals were included in the broader measure.
The latest House vote indicates that lawmakers are struggling to come to a consensus on a $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill that outlines funding for every agency in the 2021 fiscal year, as well as COVID-19 relief, which is expected to be attached to the $1.4 trillion spending bill.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said that agreement was coming together, but disagreement over the rules surrounding rules for the Federal Reserve was a major hurdle. He told reporters at the Capitol that the issue is “a very big priority” for House members.
This disagreement centered on Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) provision that would close down more than $400 billion in Federal reserve lending programs. The lending powers were established under a COVID-19 relief bill in March, intended to soften the economic blowout due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus-related lockdown measures.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is shutting down the programs at the end of December, but Toomey’s language goes further to say that the Federal Reserve would be barred from restarting the lending next year.
Some Republicans accused Democrats of using the lending authorities as a backdoor way to provide aid to state and local governments that Republicans dismiss as a “slush fund” for Democratic-controlled local governments.
Toomey denied this, saying the lending authorities were expiring anyway. Larry Kudlow, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, told reporters that the Trump administration strongly supports Toomey’s plan.
Other issues holding up the spending bill touch upon how much relief to provide for art venues that were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, as well as another dispute about whether to increase reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to local governments for items like personal protective equipment for schools.
The COVID-19 relief is expected to provide checks for most Americans of about $600 each, and extended unemployment benefits of about $300 a week. It is also expected to provide help for states that are distributing the vaccine as well as help for small businesses.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said talks were still productive and that the Senate would remain in session through the weekend if necessary to reach a deal.
“I am even more optimistic now than I was last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is close at hand,” he said.
The $908 billion relief package was unveiled with bipartisan, bicameral support.
Negotiations have played out for months but so far no deal has been reached on what would become the second major COVID-19 relief package, after the landmark CARES Act of some $1.8 trillion in aid passed in March.
A key breakthrough occurred earlier this week when Democrats agreed to drop their much-sought $160 billion state and local government aid package in exchange for McConnell abandoning a key priority of his own—a liability shield for businesses and other institutions like universities fearing COVID-19 lawsuits.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.