Congress likely to seek one-week government funding bill as stimulus negotiations continue

Source: By Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim, Washington Post • Posted: Monday, December 7, 2020

Negotiations drag on, but lawmakers must pass a stopgap bill to avert Saturday shutdown

The House of Representatives will on Wednesday vote on a one-week stopgap measure to fund the federal government in order to give negotiators more time to reach agreement on government appropriations and emergency stimulus legislation for the ailing American economy.

Negotiations over the government funding bill have stalled with lawmakers torn on at least a dozen policy issues, particularly related to immigration, according to three aides granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The federal government is set to shut down after Dec. 11 if Congress fails to act.

Congressional leaders were hoping to attach coronavirus relief legislation to the must-pass government spending bill, but work on that effort is also far from complete. The bipartisan stimulus negotiators behind a $908 billion covid relief proposal are expected to release a section by section summary of their plan as soon as Monday night. They remain at least a day away from releasing legislative language that can be signed into law and are in particular torn over a liability shield for coronavirus-related lawsuits and how to apportion funding for state and local governments — two provisions that have divided the parties for months.

To give negotiations more time, Congress is now likely to approve a measure to fund the government at its existing levels for one week while appropriators continue to work on the bills to fund federal agencies. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on Twitter on Monday that the stopgap measure would be voted on to give appropriators more time to work.

The most divisive issues in government spending talks concern funding for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico and detention facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to aides briefed on talks. Democratic appropriators have said they are awaiting responses on a range of questions from their Republican counterparts.

The bipartisan group pursuing a stimulus package made progress in marathon negotiation sessions over the weekend conducted by phone and over Zoom. Their proposed compromise centers on providing hundreds of billions of dollars in three key areas — aid for the jobless; state and local funding; and a second round of small business relief — while also approving smaller amounts for other needs such as child care, rental assistance and education, among other issues.

The group is expected to propose funding federal supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 per week for tens of millions of unemployed Americans. Under the current compromise, those benefits would not be retroactive to cover months in the fall when no federal unemployment supplement was being paid. However, the new benefit would cover payments for the jobless for 16 weeks, according to two aides granted anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

The agreement would for a similar amount of time also expand the unemployment program for gig workers and independent contractors, and similarly extend base unemployment benefits. Aides cautioned negotiations have been in flux and no final agreement had been reached on the broader package.

“Everyone feels a sense of urgency. There is not a person on the Hill, I think, who doesn’t feel the urgency,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who has been involved in the bipartisan group’s work. “I think everybody recognizes the clock is ticking and it’s getting louder. I think that’s forcing resolution, and the good news is we’ve made a lot of progress.”