Covid-19 relief deal: Congress passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown amid debate on $1 trillion package
The bill was sent to President Donald Trump for sign it by Friday midnight
The Congress on Friday (December 18) night passed a two-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown as the political players struggled to find ways to end a dead-slow negotiation over a fresh Covid-19 relief package to rescue millions of Americans who are facing economic hardships because of the pandemic. The House or Representatives voted 320 to 60 to give the negotiators the much-needed time. The Senate passed the measure soon after by voice vote.
Federal funding was set to lapse at 12:01 am ET on Saturday, December 19, if Washington failed to approve a spending bill. The stopgap measure will see the government running through to 12:01 am ET Monday (December 21) morning, giving the Congress leaders time to finalize a full-year funding and relief package.
President Donald Trump had hours at his disposal to sign the bill before the government funding expired.
However, according to a report in CNBC, the Congress will once again find itself in a spot if the president approves the measure. The House will only meet again on Sunday, December 20, noon ET and will not vote before 1 pm. The Senate, on the other hand, will return at 11 am ET on Saturday, December 19 and is expected to address nominations.
There are also dissenting voices. Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley had warned that they could delay the spending bill’s approval as they pushed the leadership to include direct payment worth $1,200 in the pandemic relief package. Sanders said he would “object to any attempt” by the Senate to pass a full-year spending plan if it did not approve a relief package that includes “substantial direct payments”.
Hawley said in a tweet earlier that he would not block the legislation after top GOP members assured him that the final relief package would include “direct assistance to working people”. “Lawmakers are expected to include $600 payments, down from the $1,200 checks approved as part of the CARES Act in March,” the CNBC report added.
I have been assured by Senate GOP leadership that #COVID direct assistance to working people IS in the #covid relief bill under negotiation & will remain. And on that basis, I will consent to a brief continuing resolution to allow negotiations to conclude— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 18, 2020
I will continue to fight for $1200/ person and $500 (min) for kids for working families— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 18, 2020
The House initially tried to pass the funding bill unanimously but Texas GOP Representative Chip Roy objected to it and forced a fully recorded voting. The result was a delay by more than an hour.
Ron Johnson blocks efforts
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson on Friday, December 18, blocked the effort to pass the new stimulus checks, saying the relief needs to be addressed and raised concerns about the country’s debt. He objected after Hawley on the Senate floor said: "What I'm proposing is what every senator has supported already, this year. ... What I'm proposing will give working folks in my state and across this country a shot ... at getting back up on their feet”
Under the Senate's rules, any senator can request to pass a bill but any other senator can object and block it.
"I completely support some kind of program targeted for small businesses. ... So what I fear we're going to do with this bipartisan package and what the senator from Missouri is talking about is the same thing, is a shotgun approach," Johnson said.