Washington — The House passed a stopgap government funding bill on Wednesday to avert a shutdown at the end of the week, giving Congress until December 18 to negotiate wide-ranging legislation to keep the government open for a year and potentially address the coronavirus pandemic.
The short-term measure, known as a, extends the government funding deadline from this Friday to the end of next week. It passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 343-67.
Congress had previously passed a continuing resolutionto December 11, in a sign of how difficult it is for lawmakers to agree to new, sweeping omnibus funding legislation.
Lawmakers have so far been unable to reach a deal on a massive government spending omnibus measure. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed hope in a speech on the House floor before the vote that the extra week would be enough time for successful negotiations, but said that the continuing resolution itself was a "recognition of failure."
"It's not any one individual's failure. It's not a bad thing. It's that we have had trouble getting together and coming to an agreement," Hoyer said.
Meanwhile, Congress is also in the midst of negotiations over a coronavirus relief package, which could be appended to an omnibus funding bill. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced a $908 billion framework that attempts to address both Republican and Democratic priorities, but there is not yet any legislative text.
Democrats have bristled at overtures from Republican leaders which they consider insincere. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back against aon Tuesday, saying that it drastically decreased funding for unemployment benefits.
The two said in a statement that it was "progress" that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had "signed off on a $916 billion offer that is based off of the bipartisan framework," but they said that President Trump's proposal "must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway." They also rejected part of the White House proposal — a reduction in unemployment insurance funding from $180 billion to $40 billion. "That is unacceptable," they wrote.
Schumer and Pelosi had earlier condemned the suggestion by McConnell that Congress drop the most controversial items from any coronavirus package to be picked up again at the beginning of the year.
"We can't leave without doing a COVID bill. The country needs it," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. "What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local and pass those things that we can agree on, knowing full well we'll be back at this after the first of the year."
Congress remains deadlocked over the inclusion of provisions on state and local funding sought by Democrats and the liability protections McConnell has prioritized. But Pelosi called McConnell's remarks "appalling."
"Leader McConnell's efforts to undermine good-faith, bipartisan negotiations are appalling," Pelosi said, noting that vaccine distribution would be administered by state and local governments. "The bipartisan negotiations involving Senators and Members of the House have made good progress and must be allowed to proceed without Leader McConnell's obstruction."
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