For a while on Friday afternoon, it appeared there might be a bipartisan agreement to fund the federal government until the middle of December. But Democrats have walked back a proposal on farm payments that negotiators agreed to “in principle” earlier.
So the negotiations have been kicked upstairs for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to handle.
The longer Congress has to deal with the temporary funding bill, the less time it will have to consider a possible pandemic relief bill that appears to be making progress in negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin.
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The tentative agreement as aides described it earlier would replenish Commodity Credit Corporation funds, which have dwindled down to about $2 billion after several rounds of payouts to farmers suffering from trade disputes and coronavirus-related losses.
The agency is bumping up against its $30 billion borrowing cap as early as next month, after which it won’t be able to finance regular, nonemergency programs authorized in the farm bill.
Democrats had initially sought to keep the CCC funds out of the continuing resolution but as of Friday afternoon agreed to the proposal in exchange for extending the so-called Pandemic EBT program — short for electronic benefits transfer. The program was created in a March aid package and provides school meals for low-income children eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches but who aren’t in school to receive them.
There are several vulnerable GOP senators from farm states that would desperately want those farm payments to be approved. One of the most vulnerable lawmakers is Iowa’s Joni Ernst who faces a tough re-election fight against a well-financed, well-known Democrat, Theresa Greenfield.
In addition, the deal in principle was said to have dropped Democratic proposals for more election security funding and to extend redistricting-related census deadlines, which were causing concerns about potential undercounting in remote and low-income areas.
The Dec. 11 end date would also be a win for the GOP, after Democrats tried for a February extension which could give them more leverage over final spending bills next year.
The December 11 date will give Republicans a gift if they lose the White House and Senate. And if Trump wins, the Republicans will be in good shape for the next two years. They will be able to block any bill from radical Democrats even if a Democratic Senate majority were to ditch the filibuster.
They are going to get this continuing resolution done. There will probably be a vote on it by mid-week. How that affects any final efforts at a coronavirus relief bill before the election isn’t clear but it should open a narrow window before Congress adourns early next month.