Senate Clears Stopgap Spending Bill to Avoid a Shutdown, Sending It to Trump

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday to keep the government funded through early Decembe...


WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday to keep the government funded through early December, punting the threat of a government shutdown and a series of thorny debates about federal funding until after the general election.

Hours before government funding was set to lapse with the end of the 2020 fiscal year, the Senate passed the measure 84 to 10, with only Republicans voting against the legislation. President Trump was expected to quickly sign the bill, which passed the House last week, before a midnight deadline.

“It should have already been done,” Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “There’s overwhelming support — you need to bring certainty to the government.”

In giving final approval to the measure, lawmakers completed the last of the essential legislative tasks that were keeping them in Washington before the election on Nov. 3, clearing the way for Congress to begin a recess and for members to scatter around the country to campaign for re-election.

It remained unclear, however, when lawmakers would depart, as top House Democrats and Trump administration officials made a final push for an elusive bipartisan deal on an economic recovery plan that both sides have said is desperately needed to address to continuing toll of the pandemic. Senators were also bracing for the possibility that a partisan feud over Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee could bleed into next week, keeping that chamber in session.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin huddled in Ms. Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office on Wednesday afternoon, toiling to hammer out a stimulus deal that could be acceptable to Mr. Trump and to Democrats. The meeting ended without a deal, and Ms. Pelosi announced that Democrats would soon vote on Democrats’ latest, $2.2 trillion proposal, which Republicans are all but certain to reject.

But the two said they had made progress in their talks and agreed to continue negotiations.

“We have more work to do, and we’re going to see where we end up,” Mr. Mnuchin said as he left the Capitol.

Ms. Pelosi, under pressure from moderates to redouble efforts to find a compromise before the elections, was determined to give Democrats one final opportunity to vote in favor of a recovery plan — this one about $1.2 trillion less costly than the stimulus plan the House passed in May. The vote, she said in a statement, would serve to “formalize our proffer to Republicans in the negotiations to address the health and economic catastrophe in our country.”

But she scrapped plans to push through the measure on Wednesday evening, delaying action until Thursday in hopes of reaching a compromise.

Republicans have denounced Democrats’ package as bloated, and Mr. Mnuchin continued to seek a narrower deal, along the lines of a $1.5 trillion bill embraced by centrists in both parties, which leading Democrats have rejected as far too small.

Amid the divide over the stimulus plan, the vote on the temporary spending bill was a rare but fleeting moment of bipartisan functionality. Democrats were using procedural tactics to delay Senate business in protest of Republican election-season rush to confirm Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

“The Senate has been so filled with its focus on making the courts of America ideological bastions for their conservative ideology that they haven’t done anything else,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said on Wednesday. “They’re just not doing work over there.”

Both chambers will ultimately need to confront the dozen unfinished bills to keep the government funded for the remainder of the new fiscal year. Democrats had unsuccessfully pushed to extend the funding through February, hoping to negotiate more favorable deals if their party captured control of both the Senate and the White House and maintained a majority in the House. But Republicans refused to accept that timeline, agreeing to a measure that provides funding through Dec. 11, which would require a lame-duck Congress to determine the spending levels after the election.

In addition to maintaining government funding, the legislation approved on Wednesday provides tens of billions of dollars to extend the borrowing limit of the Commodity Credit Corporation, which grants loans to farmers across the country. The administration’s push to include that aid initially threatened to derail the measure, as Democrats refused to include new funding amid concerns that Mr. Trump was using the program as a political tool to woo a critical bloc of voters.

But facing bipartisan criticism for her threat to omit the aid, Ms. Pelosi ultimately agreed to its inclusion of the funding, with a restriction that the money could not be used to pay fossil fuel refiners and importers. Ms. Pelosi also secured nearly $8 billion in nutrition assistance for families and schoolchildren, including an extension of nutrition waivers approved this year in coronavirus legislation and funds for a pandemic program that provides aid to families with children who would have received free or reduced-price lunches at school.

The measure would prevent furloughs at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, allowing the agency to raise premium processing fees to counter a recent loss in revenue in part driven by the toll of the pandemic. It would also provide funding for a federal program for highway construction and maintenance, in addition to maintaining funding for a flood insurance program through next September.

The legislation also included language that would prevent Medicare recipients from seeing a significant increase in their premiums partly because of measures taken by the administration to counter the effects of the pandemic.

However, lawmakers and administration officials did not include any additional relief to address the country’s shuddering economic recovery and help American businesses and families recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

The efforts by Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin to agree on such aid face long odds, with the time frame for a deal dwindling by the hour.

“As the price goes up, the Republican vote total goes down,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, second-ranking Republican told reporters. “A lot of it will have to do with what’s in it.”

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Newsrust: Senate Clears Stopgap Spending Bill to Avoid a Shutdown, Sending It to Trump
Senate Clears Stopgap Spending Bill to Avoid a Shutdown, Sending It to Trump
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