White House, Congress struggle to complete stop-gap spending bill as October shutdown looms

Trump weighed in on the issue over Twitter, writing: “Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can’t let that happen!”

Trump has already spent several years directing tens of billions of dollars in bailout funds to farmers by using a Depression-era law in a way that even some Agriculture Department officials believed was possibly improper. To continue sending the funds, Trump needs congressional approval, and Democrats have opposed sending more bailout money to farmers because they allege he is using the taxpayer money to try and mollify the political backlash to his trade policies.

Trump announced at a rally Thursday night in the battleground state of Wisconsin that farmers would get an additional $13 billion, money from the same fund that the administration is seeking to replenish via the short-term spending bill.

“We have serious concerns about giving President Trump a blank check to spread political favors,” a senior House Democratic aide involved in the talks said in explaining the Democrats’ opposition to the money. “It is an abuse of taxpayer dollars to give this administration more money so the president can grab headlines with announcements at campaign rallies.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Additionally, Democrats are seeking more money for food assistance to children impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. They also want $3.6 billion in additional election security funds as part of the short-term bill — something Republicans oppose.

The talks on the short-term spending bill are separate from the stalemate over a new coronavirus relief bill. That standoff showed no signs of budging on Friday, as Pelosi continued to hold out for a $2.2 trillion bill that Republicans have rejected — despite pressure from moderates in her caucus to give ground.

Pelosi dismissed a reporter’s question about whether she was letting the perfect be the enemy of the good regarding the broader coronavirus relief bill. She reiterated that she has already compromised from a $3.4 trillion bill House Democrats passed in May, which the White House and Senate Republicans dismissed.

“It’s not perfect … perfect is $3.4 trillion,” Pelosi said. “This is not about perfect being the enemy of the good.”

Trump has recently signaled he would be comfortable with a bill in the area of $1.5 trillion. Both Trump and House Democrats have said they support legislation that would send another round of stimulus checks to Americans, as well as more unemployment assistance.

The plight of airlines is also a growing area of concern for members of both parties. A provision from the Cares Act that required airlines to keep workers on payroll in exchange for aid expires Sept. 30, and major airlines have warned of mass lay-offs.

In a letter Friday to congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the head of United Airlines and the leaders of several major airline unions urged Congress to renew negotiations on a new covid relief bill that would include an extension of the airline Payroll Support Program. The alternative, the letter warned, is “involuntary furloughs” of 16,000 workers.

But while those broader talks remain bogged down, the White House and congressional leaders have turned their attention to the short-term spending bill. Failure to pass that bill by the end of this month would lead to a shutdown on October 1 — just weeks before the election.

Pelosi and Mnuchin agreed some time ago on the need for a stop-gap spending bill to keep the lights on at government agencies like the Pentagon and Department of Health and Human Services. Some government programs including Medicare and Social Security keep running on their own, but many federal agencies and programs require annual spending bills to be passed by Congress in order to stay open from one fiscal year to the next.

Congress has frequently failed to complete the 12 annual must-pass spending bills on time in recent years, instead resorting to stop-gap measures known as “continuing resolutions” that extend agency funding at existing levels for short periods of time.

It’s also not yet determined how long the stop-gap bill will last. Republicans are pushing for a mid-December end date, while some Democrats favor extending the spending deadline into February, when there could be a new administration in place.

Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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