The government will technically run out of money on September 30 and for members of Congress, this presented a nightmare scenario. Republicans would dearly love to pass some kind of pandemic relief bill before they break until after the election. But with negotiations still stalled, the prospect of being tied up with a coronavirus relief bill and having to deal with a bill to fund the government past September 30 at the same time would have been problematic.
To forestall that eventuality, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed to treat the two issues separately. This means that any government funding bill will be “clean” — no pandemic relief measures included.
“House Democrats are for a clean continuing resolution,” Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, said in a statement.
There is no consensus for how long the stopgap would extend government funding past Sept. 30, Hill aides said. House and Senate Democratic leaders haven’t formally discussed the issue yet, although a mid-December deadline would be the traditional practice during an election year.
As for pandemic relief, the “skinny” GOP bill introduced this week is getting fatter every day.
The new Senate Republican proposal — costing as much as $1 trillion — is expected to include $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits through the end of December, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, $105 billion for education, and liability protections for companies, schools and health care providers amid the pandemic, according to a draft proposal. The bill would also provide billions to the U.S. Postal Service by converting an existing loan into a grant. The House has passed legislation calling for $25 billion in new funding for the Postal Service, but the White House has supported only $10 billion.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer derisively referred to the GOP bill, saying, “Republicans may call their proposal ‘skinny,’ but it would be more appropriate to call it ’emaciated.'”
If tradition holds, the continuing resolution to keep funding the government will be of short duration — perhaps to the middle of December. Some Democrats want a CR that would keep the government running until March, hoping to flip the Senate, which would allow the left to cram billions of dollars in spending into the bill.
The duration of the CR is not clear at this point, but the most likely option is that the government will be funded until December, when Congress would need to return for a lame-duck session to pass another short-term bill to fund the government into 2021.
The sources familiar with the talks said it’s possible any coronavirus relief deal reached this month could still hitch a ride on the CR but emphasized the items would run on separate tracks.
In this atmosphere of hate and distrust, anything is possible. Democrats would welcome a shutdown if they could be assured blame would fall on Trump and the Republicans. Some Republicans may wish to make a statement about the $3.5 trillion budget deficit the government has already run up and vote against a short-term CR.
But in the end, it’s likely that more practical heads will prevail and the CR will be passed.