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Avoiding a partial government shutdown, passing COVID-19 relief loom large in lame duck session
Do you think Congress will pass more COVID-19 relief before the end of the year?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- Congress is winding down the first week of its post-election lame duck session, as the Senate cast its last vote Wednesday evening and departed for the Thanksgiving recess, which the House will begin after a Friday morning vote on an apprenticeships bill.
- Both chambers are scheduled to return on November 30th, which will leave them with two work weeks in which to pass government funding and avoid a partial government shutdown on December 11th.
- It remains to be seen whether Congress can resolve a months-long impasse and reach a compromise on another coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package, as there isn’t much time left on the legislative calendar.
- The House is scheduled to adjourn for the final time in the 116th Congress on December 10th while the Senate is scheduled to be in session during the week of December 14th, although both could add more work days before the 117th Congress is seated on January 3, 2021.
Gov’t Funding Deadline
- Congress and the Trump administration averted the last government funding deadline on September 30th with the enactment of a continuing resolution (CR) that funded the government through December 11th, and also extended several programs that would’ve otherwise seen their authorizations lapse, along with pandemic-related changes to food assistance programs.
- It’s unclear whether Congress will take up another CR that extends government funding at current levels for several weeks or months (likely into February or March 2021); an “omnibus” that provides the annual discretionary funding to under all 12 appropriations categories; or instead consider multiple “minibus” packages that bundle several of the 12 spending bills together.
- Senate Republicans recently introduced a $1.39 trillion package of annual spending bills, while Democrats haven’t to date introduced a similarly public counteroffer.
- Another possibility is that Congress could try to attach a COVID-19 relief package to a CR or omnibus spending package if bipartisan compromises are reached on both fronts.
- Negotiations over a “phase 4” coronavirus relief package began in earnest in July, but to date, Democrats and Republicans haven’t been able to strike a deal.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democrats passed their $3.4 trillion HEROES Act along party-lines in May, then passed their $2.2 trillion Updated HEROES Act on a similarly partisan vote in September.
- While the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus suggested a compromise $1.5 trillion package, Democratic leaders rejected the proposal and Pelosi insisted that a new relief package be at least $2.2 trillion.
- Senate Republicans have expressed a preference for a more targeted package, and brought a $500 billion COVID-19 relief bill up for votes in September and October, but Democrats filibustered it by denying the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.
- Republicans also introduced a $1 trillion bill known as the HEALS Act, while the Trump administration signaled a willingness to pass a bill as large as $1.8 trillion prior to the election.
Nominations & Other Bills
- The House of Representatives typically passes several dozen bipartisan, relatively uncontroversial bills under the fast-track suspension of the rules process during lame duck sessions in the hope that they will become law before the incoming Congress convenes.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that he intends to “leave no vacancy behind” by the end of the year. While the Senate will spend floor time on a government funding package (and maybe a COVID-19 compromise bill), there are numerous nominations that the Senate may confirm in the weeks ahead.
- The Senate may fill vacancies to judicial vacancies on circuit, district, and other courts; independent agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC); and the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors.
- It’s worth noting that Republicans will be able to continue considering President Donald Trump’s nominees until Inauguration Day even if Democrats flip both GOP-held Georgia seats in the January 5th runoff elections because Vice President Mike Pence would be able to vote to break a 50-50 deadlock in favor of the nominee.
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