House approves one-week spending bill as stimulus talks drag on

Source: By Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Vote comes while bipartisan group of senators continues negotiating broader relief package

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)

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a one-week extension in funding for the federal government, a move aimed at giving lawmakers more time to hammer out agreements on spending bills and emergency economic relief.

Congressional leaders advanced the short-term extension in federal funding as negotiations over an emergency economic relief package appeared to falter and prospects of a major breakthrough dimmed. The measure passed by a 343 to 67 vote.

Appropriators have continued to make progress on a set of spending bills to fund the federal agencies, with only a few outstanding policy issues left to be resolved by congressional leaders, aides involved in deliberations say. But talks on the broader stimulus package seemed at risk of breaking down after the White House on Tuesday proposed a relief bill that would offer only minimal benefits to unemployed Americans, a nonstarter for congressional Democrats.

The short-term spending bill is now expected to quickly move to the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled he will hold a vote ahead of Friday’s deadline. If President Trump doesn’t sign the measure into law by midnight on Friday, a government shutdown would commence on Saturday morning.

A group of bipartisan Senators trying to break the stimulus logjam has continued chipping away at divisive policy issues throughout the week. On Wednesday they released a six-page summary of the outlines of a potential compromise.

The group has not yet released bill text and its summary left unresolved the two most contentious issues facing lawmakers — aid to state and local governments, and protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits for businesses and other entities. Both of these issues have divided Congress for months. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) backed the initial $908 billion proposal as a starting point for negotiations, but McConnell has rejected the compromise framework.

The urgency behind stimulus talks have accelerated amid signs of economic deterioration and hopes of attaching the relief package to the must-pass government spending bill. Several critical emergency programs are set to expire by the end of the year, including unemployment aid and rental protections for millions of people.

“Anybody who thinks if we let this moment pass we’d have another bill before late March hasn’t spent much time around this building,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, said on Tuesday. “We need to do this, and we need to do it now.”

McConnell on Wednesday blamed Democrats for the impasse, accusing Pelosi and Schumer for what he called a “schizophrenic” rejection of the White House offer. McConnell also repeatedly criticized the Democratic leaders for blocking unemployment aid, although the proposal he released last week contained no extension in federal unemployment benefits.