October 20, 2020

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House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks

Congressional leaders are back at the negotiating table over the three-month stopgap — which is intended to punt any fiscal drama past Sept. 30 and until the lame-duck session — after talks broke down on Friday. While both parties appear to be coalescing around a Dec. 11 end date, Democrats and Republicans have squabbled for weeks over which funding and policy exceptions should be included in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.

A deal appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in payments to farmers that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.

But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky,), who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.

Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding another government shutdown under President Donald Trump and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.

Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.

“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked whether Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”

As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November.

Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.

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