House Democrats prep fallback option on stopgap funding

Dec. 11 end date is closer to GOP position; policy riders on farm aid, census still in play

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is seen in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall after a news conference on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is seen in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall after a news conference on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 18, 2020 at 11:01am, Updated at 4:49pm

House Democrats on Friday were readying their own temporary funding plan that would extend current appropriations through Dec. 11, according to an aide who wasn't authorized to speak for the record.

Senate Republicans and the White House haven't signed off on the proposal, which comes after negotiators missed a self-imposed deadline at noon on Friday for releasing the stopgap bill needed to avert a partial government shutdown beginning Oct. 1.

Congressional leaders and White House officials were still hashing out lingering disputes over farm price supports and redistricting-related census deadlines, as well as the duration of the continuing resolution. 

And with 46 days until Nov. 3, Democrats were insisting on topping up state election security funds, even as early voting was already underway in several states. Another issue that cropped up was money for a potential presidential transition during the lame-duck session and early January, if former Vice President Joe Biden wins.

[Census deadlines dispute hangs up stopgap funding talks]

Democrats prefer a February stopgap, but view the Dec. 11 end date as a potential compromise in exchange for policy concessions. The House is currently scheduled to adjourn for the year at the end of that week, while the Senate is in through Dec. 18. That's the date Senate Republicans favor.

A House Democratic aide close to the talks said a deal could still be struck and text filed later Friday, though a Senate GOP aide was less optimistic. The House went into recess subject to the call of the chair during its noon pro forma session, meaning lawmakers could still gavel back in to file the bill.

The House could take up a partisan version of the stopgap early next week and send it to the Senate to get the process moving while negotiations continue. But then the Senate would need to amend the House-passed text and ping pong it back for another vote, all before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Farm aid dispute

Money for farm price supports emerged as a major sticking point in the final bargaining, with President Donald Trump on Friday tweeting his displeasure with Democrats for seeking to deny his aid request.

Trump in Wisconsin on Thursday night announced that his administration would make available an additional $13 billion in farm payouts using Commodity Credit Corporation funds to cover coronavirus-related losses.

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[Deal elusive on stopgap funding as deadline nears]

But the agency is now bumping up against its $30 billion borrowing cap, and the White House had asked Congress to include an “anomaly” in the continuing resolution to replenish CCC losses incurred as of Sept. 17 in order to keep future payments flowing.

Trump tweeted Friday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was blocking the CCC funds from being added to the must-pass spending bill. "Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can’t let that happen!" he wrote.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, without quick reimbursement, the CCC may be unable to make regular payments for farm bill programs as early as next month.

A similar issue temporarily held up stopgap funding talks last year, when the Trump administration had rolled out support programs for farmers affected by the president’s trade dispute with China.

One person familiar with the discussions said Democrats might agree to the commodity program funding if Republicans backed off their opposition to extending the census deadlines, including a Dec. 31 deadline to deliver population counts to Trump.

That would essentially put the redistricting process in his administration's hands, while Democrats want to extend the process into next year when Biden might be president. Some Republicans also want to extend the census deadlines so the agency has more time to complete its work, citing fears of a rushed count in remote parts of the country like Alaska.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed weeks ago that they would keep the CR “clean” of extraneous bills and provisions that could slow down talks or create political issues for either party. But as with any must-pass legislation, jockeying for late additions, particularly with the campaign’s home stretch around the corner, was an issue.

The noon Friday deadline to file the legislation was intended to keep the House on schedule to take up the bill early next week. The Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting at 1 p.m. Monday to consider the terms of floor debate for the measure.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., has said he wants to give the Senate plenty of time to overcome any procedural hurdles and avoid bumping up against the Sept. 30 deadline.