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Bullet policy · Sep 28, 2020

Congress to Pass Stopgap Measure to Avoid Shutdown

With negotiations over COVID-19 pandemic relief stalled, lawmakers are looking to pass a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operational in the new fiscal year which starts on October 1. A stopgap funding measure is required because the House and Senate have not yet agreed on and passed appropriations bills to fund the government in fiscal year 2021.

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached an agreement to pursue a clean short-term spending bill earlier this month, the House passed a bipartisan continuing resolution on September 22 extending federal funding through December 11. The Senate is expected to pass the bill this week.

The measure would provide $21 billion to replenish funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation, a farm safety net program, which has made $6.5 billion in emergency payments to help farmers cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats initially excluded the farm aid from the continuing resolution over concerns that the Trump Administration would utilize that funding for political gains with agriculture interests in rural areas and petroleum refiners that fail to get biofuel mandate waivers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized the exclusion, saying the bill “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America.”

After negotiations, Democrats agreed to include the farm payments after they were able to get $8 billion in additional federal nutrition assistance included in the measure. The bill would also restrict the farm aid from going to petroleum companies. Speaker Pelosi said that this would “increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout.”

After passing the continuing resolution, lawmakers in the House are now looking to restart pandemic relief negotiations. According to reports, Speaker Pelosi has directed committee chairs to draft a new pared-down relief package that costs between $2.2 trillion and $2.4 trillion. The House is expected to remain in session in October to pass a relief measure should a deal surface. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said about the likelihood of a coronavirus stimulus deal that “there’s always a chance for anything around here, but it would be very slim I think.”